Outside the box

January 14, 2007

When the city plows under Rash Field for a below-ground parking garage, there should rise in its place a realm of childish wonder, of curious delight and aesthetic intrigue. The city wants to retain some form of recreation on the site, but it should avoid the predictable. Think outdoor glockenspiel, a swimmable fountain, a garden labyrinth.

Think unconventional.

Rash Field has always been a park in transition. Sandwiched between the Maryland Science Center and the Rusty Scupper at the Inner Harbor, it has housed a skating rink, beach volleyball courts and an outdoor trapeze school. Neighborhood joggers and dog walkers travel its paved circumference. At the far end stands a memorial to the storm-wrecked Pride of Baltimore. The underground parking proposal provides an opportunity for an appealing, multipurpose outdoor space.

Rash Field, at 9.3 acres, is a third the size of Chicago's Millennium Park, where an array of outdoor sculptures, gardens and recreation spaces creates a dizzying, extra-sensory experience. In lower Manhattan, architect David Rockwell is transforming an area along the South Street Seaport into an Imagination Park. It's a playground of sand and water and ramps with pulleys, wagons, sails and nonconventional blocks to occupy children - and engage their imaginations.

The new Rash Field could integrate the physical world of the science center with the whimsy of the Visionary Arts Museum. It could serve as an outdoor wireless caf?. At the very least, it should engage the sense of play of all ages.

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