I was in Frederick, Maryland today for a meeting. I arrived early, so I took a quick walk through the downtown, where I was startled to discover the wonderful plantings in Carroll Creek Park.
Frederick was founded along the banks of Carroll Creek back in the 1740s, but the creek has always been a mixed blessing for the town. It provided fresh water and power for mills, but it regularly flooded, inundating the downtown.
After terrible floods in 1972 and 1976 Frederick hit a real low point, with much of the downtown vacant. Local officials decided that they could never really bring the town back without bringing the creek under control. So they hired some engineers to carry out a study and develop a long-range plan.
The plan that eventually emerged had two parts. The first was to turn Baker Park, upstream from the town, into a sort of emergency holding basin, reconfiguring the landscape so the stream would flood the park instead of the town.
The second was gigantic underground concrete conduits along the route of the stream. That of course involved digging a huge ditch through the center of town along the creek. (Page from the Master Plan, which you can read here.)
Once the conduits were in place, the stream was directed through this canal over top of them, and a park was built along the canal. Just this year, as a sort of final touch, the canal has been planted with a beautiful array of lotuses and water lilies.
None of this has come cheap -- $24 million just for construction, and I'm sure millions more for engineering and planning. But it has worked spectacularly. Frederick is booming, with more than $150 million in private investment for new stores and offices just in the area that lines the park.
This is, I think, a model of how imaginative thinking can help reinvigorate a town. Projects like this make me wish I were a planner; I would love to design things like this. But notice how long it took; people began pushing for a solution after the 1976 flood, but the plan was not finished until 1991 and construction on the main phase is only now being completed. More work is planned farther downstream. These things take time, money, and decades of concerted effort.
The result has been an economic turnaroud, and a wonderful amenity for the people of Frederick.