Field of Dreams
Tufts students help to land grant for urban park in Salem, Mass.

A small piece of contaminated land in Salem will one day be transformed into a neighborhood park with playground equipment, permanent tables for cards and dominoes and a meeting place, thanks in part to help from a group of Tufts students.

“We send teams of students out to work with community organizations, nonprofits and public agencies,” says Robert Russell, coordinator of field-based education for the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning.

The new park will be located behind a fast-food restaurant in a working-class Latino neighborhood known as The Point. For years, city officials had talked about creating a green space in the area, and in November the city received a $474,000 grant from the state to construct a park and another $135,000 to clean up oil and toxic material on the site.

Students from the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning helped with preliminary design work for the park after holding meetings with neighborhood residents. In addition to space for playing popular neighborhood games, community members asked for a gazebo to be used as a permanent meeting place. The students’ report was submitted in the successful grant application.

The project is a collaborative effort between Salem’s planning department, local nonprofit Salem Sound Coastwatch and Tufts. “We’re thrilled to be working with Tufts students in an ongoing relationship,” says Susan Yochelson, outreach coordinator for Coastwatch. “They did a fantastic job and were very thorough. They talked to everybody, touched every base and did such a good job that the project is now being funded. One of the beautiful things they brought was an ability to communicate directly with the surrounding community, which oftentimes feels disenfranchised.”

“We participated in the conceptual design of the park and interviewed members of the neighboring community,” says Robert Russell, coordinator of the department’s field-based education. “It is heavily Latino, and in terms of income, fairly low to working class, which means it’s a community that in the political life of Salem has not really received a lot of attention.”

The land is on the South River and will eventually be connected to a walkway that city officials hope will help revitalize the waterfront district.

Field placements are part of the department’s curriculum for students earning master’s degrees. “We send teams of students out to work with community organizations, nonprofits and public agencies,” Russell says. “The typical team will offer from 500 to 600 hours of free consulting work.”

The field project program, Russell says, is “designed to simulate the kind of complex project students will encounter in pretty much anything they end up doing, whether they become town planners or consultants in the private sector.”

—Marjorie Howard

Marjorie Howard is a senior writer in Tufts? Office of Publications. She can be reached at This story ran in the December 2007 issue of the Tufts Journal.