Land Use

Developer Purchases Providence Parcel That Bloomed With ‘10,000 Suns’ Flower Project

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A child plays among the sunflowers that bloomed in Providence during the 10,000 Suns art project each August for the last six years. The land on which the sunflowers were grown has been sold to a developer. (Alexis Freitas)

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.

10,000 Suns art project in Providence
The 10,000 Suns display of sunflowers will not bloom in Providence this year. (Mike Cohea)

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.”

10,000 Suns art project in Providence
The 10,000 Suns project provided the city with a field of sunflowers. (Adam E. Anderson)

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.”

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  1. It is sad to see this go, but adding to the Providence housing stock is vital to help with homelessness.

  2. It’s worse than sad. Cities need greenspace, somewhat wild space, and not this constant development mainly for profit; I don’t think this is going to affect the homeless at all. That whole strip of land by the river is being developed at high-speed for profit, not for the good of the community. Downtown is being choked by this. Definitely housing is needed for the homeless, but as far as I know this is the one downtown area that brought a bit of nature to everyone.

  3. What a heartbreaker to hear – on so many levels. I don’t understand why people are building new at the water’s edge. So shortsighted!

  4. A sunflower mural instead of the beautiful expanse of real sunflowers enjoyed and loved by so many in RI? A mural as a replacement is insulting and will only be a depressing reminder of how Providence refuses to listen to public outcry. Why can’t 1-195 redevelopment save parcel 2 as much needed green space that attracts businesses and people to come live in Providence within their shortsighted plans.
    This gargantuan building is an eco disaster. Building this monstrosity only serves to unravel the waterfront and historic district.
    It is not being built as “affordable” housing but will rather undoubtably serve Brown University’s wealthy students as housing.
    My understanding is that our Governor can intervene at this point to stop this out of scale project and at the very least ask for a new design that would compliment our city.
    Hope springs eternal.

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