by Adi Nochur, Groundwork USA
“You used to be able to tell what dye the plant was processing by the color of the river that day,” Lesly Melendez told us as we stood at the site of a former commercial laundry facility on Brooks Street in Lawrence, Massachusetts. “We didn’t know it was a brownfield at the time,” she added, using a common term to describe land that has real or suspected contamination from hazardous substances.
The beautiful riverfront park that stretched out before us, named for renowned local obstetrician Dr. Nina Scarito, belied this industrial history. Lesly, a lifelong resident of Lawrence and the current Deputy Director of Groundwork Lawrence, has played a pivotal role in this brownfield-to-park transformation. As she led our small group last month on a tour of the Spicket River Greenway, a recently completed 3.5-mile walking and biking trail connecting numerous Lawrence parks, community gardens, and open spaces (several also located on former industrial brownfield sites), it was hard not to be impressed by the community’s vision and determination. Lawrence, a city long known for textile mills and famous for the 1912 Bread and Roses labor strike, is now charting a new course forward, one that seeks to reconnect people to the natural resources that have always been in their backyards, yet just out of reach.