May 18, 2015
Dear Mayor Curtatone and Honorable Aldermen,
We write to you as citizens of Somerville to express our concern for the plan to install a U12 artificial turf soccer field at Lincoln Park. Lincoln Park, the largest City-owned true green space in Somerville, is a rare and critical resource in this town. The plan unveiled at the April 27th design meeting to put a U12 artificial turf field on almost half of the park does not make sense for our highly paved and impermeable city, especially in this era of global warming. We ask that you say, “Yes to grass fields only,” in Lincoln Park and work to create additional fields in the City, rather than dividing our community as we fight over the little grass that remains.
Lincoln Park is a place that you think of to have a picnic, meet up with friends, play a pick-up game, watch youth soccer, or go for a run. It is open and inviting. It is a place that creates community, a place that encourages interaction between residents.
As you know, Somerville is desperately lacking in green space. We need 125 additional acres of green and open space just to reach the National Recreation and Park Association’s recommended minimum for an urban area. Because Somerville does not differentiate between green and open space, it is impossible to put numbers on how much more green space we do need. Still, it’s safe to say that Somerville needs more green space for parks and for recreation.
Lincoln Park is overused and under-cared for. The construction of the current grass field was done improperly after the Argenziano School construction, and it shows. But this does not mean artificial turf is the answer. Given how much programming the field currently sustains, an artificial turf field may not be up to the challenge. The turf is literally falling apart at the East Somerville Community School field (just two years old) and the Capuano School field.
If a U12 artificial turf field is installed, it will become an exclusive field for organized sports because it will be permitted to its fullest extent. It will also reduce the usability of the park. Currently, the field can be used in multiple ways at the same time: two games or many practices can coincide, orientation of the field can be changed to fit the best use, and the field can be altered to fit games for little kids or adults. An artificial turf field is not so easily altered.
Many Somerville residents are concerned about the environmental and long-term health consequences of artificial turf. Choosing to install this should be done with the full understanding of what we are doing and the potential harm it can cause, and with the knowledge that once the field is turfed over, it will never be returned to grass and that public green space will be gone forever.
Higher surface temperatures are well-documented on turf fields, and these disproportionately affect the youngest players due to their proximity to the field surface. According to a Brigham Young University study, researchers found a “shocking” difference in surface temperature between a synthetic football field and an adjacent natural grass field - an average of 117ºF vs. 78ºF. The highest temperature recorded on the artificial turf was 157ºF! These higher temperatures also exacerbate the “urban heat island effect," the term used to describe built up areas that are hotter than nearby rural areas. The annual mean air temperature of a city with 1 million people or more can be 1.8–5.4°F (1–3°C) warmer than its surroundings (epa.gov). This is a well-documented environmental issue, known to affect microclimate and wildlife habitat. It can be mitigated with green space (like grass!) and properly selected paving materials. Somerville takes pride in our progressive attitudes about sustainability, responsible development, and quality of life, but with so little acreage that moderates this urban heat island effect, the installation of artificial turf works against these values.
When considering costs of grass and turf, the full life cycle cost must be considered. The City’s preference for artificial turf seems predicated primarily on maintenance concerns (which translate into life-cycle costs), though detailed cost data has not been presented to the public. It is important to note that the initial cost of turf is higher than grass. Furthermore, the surface of a heavily used field will need replacement every 8-10 years. One detailed analysis (forbes.com) found that the cost of turf over a 20-year period was approximately 50% more than the cost of natural grass, and other comprehensive studies have corroborated these findings. Artificial turf does not save money.
We must not rush the design process, oversimplifying the issues in an effort to move forward quickly. Some proponents of artificial turf at Lincoln Park maintain that we have had enough discussion on this topic. On the contrary, the pros and cons of grass vs. artificial turf have not been fully discussed in any public meeting. The fact that the City’s Recreational Fields Task Force recommended a natural grass field at the conclusion of the listening sessions, and has only recently reversed itself, is testimony to the difficulty of this decision. Let’s not allow impatience to result in policies that are not fully informed.
We are trading a multi-use natural park for a single-use artificial recreation field. We need more green space, not less. The answer is to find new space and we need to get creative about this. We have a wonderful opportunity in the complete reconstruction of Boynton Yards, or in Brickbottom or Assembly Square, where development is currently happening. The Powderhouse School is another opportunity to develop a recreational field, especially with the purchase offers having come in so much lower than the City had hoped. We can also look to the roofs. But we must start creating this space now while high land values give the City leverage with developers. The present and future residents of Somerville need this. Somerville is cutting edge in so many aspects; let’s get creative about the need for more green and recreational space and keep Lincoln Park natural grass and open for all.
Katherine Martin Widmer
Gina L. Foglia
Ellen (Lenni) Armstrong
Lee Erica Palmer
Susan and Anton Tutter
Jefferson T Scott
Daniel Gonzalez Brenes
Tamara Jay Harper
Rachel P Simmons
Lisa Cherin Mayer
Nancy J Roach
William D Sullivan
Nancy J Roach
William D Sullivan