Developer Purchases Providence Parcel That Bloomed With ‘10,000 Suns’ Flower Project
May 2, 2022
PROVIDENCE — An empty parcel of land on the city’s East Side that has burst with sunflowers every August for the past six summers as part of an art project will remain fallow this year.
On April 29 Adam E. Anderson, a landscape architect and the creative force behind the 10,000 Suns public art project on Water Street, announced over social media that the land had been sold to Urbanica, a Boston firm that plans to build a mixed-use apartment building, he wrote.
“To see the end for real is pretty sad,” Anderson said. “I knew all along the parcel was going to be developed, but I had a subversive sort of hope that [the project] would spark imaginations enough to change that plan.”
Each spring, a team of volunteers gathered on Water Street and planted 10,000 sunflower seeds in a participatory landscaping project born from Anderson’s desire to see the beauty of sunflowers blooming against the backdrop of the Providence skyline. But the project had just as much impact on the city’s environment as it had on its aesthetics.
The parcel of land that hosted 10,000 Suns is in the I-195 Redevelopment District and is considered a brownfield because of possible contamination. Sunflowers are frequently used in phytoremediation — a plant-based approach to extracting pollutants from the environment — because they are bioaccumulators, which means they can draw toxins from the soil.
In his planning, however, Anderson was mindful of the environmental dangers of planting a monoculture.
“In the beds, I tried to keep the good weeds,” he said. “The site became pretty biodiverse in terms of flowers, and that led to a richer fauna.”
Pollinators were attracted to the flowers that provided food for birds in the fall months. “When you stood in the field in August evenings, you could hear the difference between an empty parcel of land and this one because of all the insects,” Anderson said.
Anderson approaches a landscape as if it were sculpture, which is in direct opposition to the standard “mow and blow mentality,” as he called it.
“A landscape changes over time and you can observe and shape it,” he said. “And I’ve found people are very interested in becoming involved in projects like that because it builds community. Participatory landscape projects like these also relieve some of the huge maintenance burden from the parks department.”
City officials acknowledge the important role green space has in the community. City Council member John Goncalves, a Democrat who represents Ward 1, said he would have liked the parcel to remain as it is, but said “redevelopment was inevitable.” However, at his and the community’s urging, the new development is expected to include a memorial of sorts to the art installation.
“The developer has committed to acknowledging the project by recreating a small portion of the space via sunflower planting and a sunflower mural,” Goncalves said. “We look forward to working with the developer, the I-195 Redevelopment District, Adam Anderson and all the pioneers of 10,000 Suns to pay tribute to the sunflowers and all they represent.”
Although Anderson recognized the beauty in his project’s ephemerality, he admitted he’s experiencing the low that comes with any project’s conclusion. He has, however, been buoyed by the outpouring of stories that prove the impact 10,000 Suns had on the city.
“One volunteer documented her daughter’s growth among the sunflowers. Grieving families have scattered ashes in the field. [The project] was important to people,” he said.
Anderson hopes Rhode Islanders are left with more than a memory of the spot where the sunflowers used to be. “Maybe the next time an opportunity like this arises, we’ll be ready for it,” he said. “I hope 10,000 Suns elevated the expectation of what landscape in our city could be.”