LETTER: Don’t Sacrifice the Open Space Feel of Victory Field for Athletics

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I attended one of the June subcommittee meetings on Victory Field renovations.  As with many projects, it is difficult to organize the “general public” to attend. And it is natural that those whose work is directly affected (sports directors from high school, recreation dept. and youth) are an integral part of this project, and will speak in favor of their needs. But in the effort to accommodate their needs, we can lose the identity of this open space, which has served the general public for decades, improving health and building community, in an informal way. By adding many fixed physical objects to the field for organized sports, we may make the field uninviting for casual play, and we may lose flexibility to use this space for future needs.

I would encourage the Committee to define or – upfront – how much of this Field will be allotted for organized athletics (high school, recreation dept., sports, etc. ) vs. left as a “park.”

I would also encourage the Committee to recommend that some organized activities be designated for other fields in town. It is not appropriate to compare Watertown High to schools in more landed towns such as Belmont or Needham.  Moreover, as in academic areas, some regional sharing opportunities may evolve.

And, I would encourage the Committee to consider the growing importance of parks and open space in this time of increased density for our Town. The need for spontaneous/unorganized play and open, natural spaces  is greater than ever before.

I have quoted (below) from several sources, which describe the many benefits that a park serves, especially regarding health and community building:

1. Sharing School Facilities – How Collaboration can Increase Physical Activity in Communities (Kentucky Cancer Consortium and Kentucky Youth Advocates)


Increased physical activity opportunities for adults

Increased opportunities for family time activities

Increased physical activity opportunities for youth 

Improved partnerships with community organizations 

Improved community relationships 

2. https://www.pittsburghparks.org/rx (Pittsburgh Conservancy)

Parks Rx

Too often we underestimate the impact that nature and play have on children’s health. In fact, studies show that one of the best ways to stay healthy is to simply step outside. Parks and green spaces improve health and well being, strengthen communities, and make neighborhoods better places to live, work, and play. Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, and others have teamed up to create Pittsburgh Parks Prescription, or Parks Rx, inviting children (and adults) in every neighborhood to explore and enjoy their local parks.

3. https://www.planning.org/cityparks/ (American Planning Association)

We are facing a new era of defining what constitutes a park. No longer seen as simply grass and trees, parks provide a multitude of benefits to their users. In the past, parks brought an element of the country into the city. They provided relief from overcrowded housing conditions and congestion. They later evolved into recreation centers and facilities. These park functions all continue to have value today. Parks, however, have begun to play a more integrated role in our urban environments.

They provide formal and informal gathering places for building community. They help to positively influence property values. They give city dwellers a place to connect to the natural world. They make our urban areas more inviting for living, working, and relaxing.

To understand what the urban parks of the future — and the cities in which they exist — will be, urban leaders need a venue for addressing the challenges of creating and enhancing parks in their cities. The City Parks Forum provided this venue.

4. https://www.fastcompany.com/3048647/park-chops (Fast Company)

A well-designed park allows for change. “As a society, we’re not static,” says Nielsen. “We want different things over time.” That’s why the firm is wary of dedicating square footage to any single use. “People ask for everything: a dog run, a playground for two-year-olds, somewhere to fly kites,” says Nielsen. “If you try to accommodate each of those very specific requirements, there will be no room for flexibility.”

“People ask for everything,” says Nielsen. “A dog run, a playground for two-year-olds, somewhere to fly kites.”


Humans are creatures of habit, so it’s important to design spaces that complement people’s daily rhythms. When the firm built a park adjacent to the University of Pennsylvania’s hospital, it took into account how foot traffic would actually function. “We created three types of circulation: a fast lane along the street curb, a slow lane that skirts the interior of the park, and a meandering path that’s a stopping lane,” says Mathews. The different routes allow one person to dash to class, another to stroll while talking on her cell phone, and a third to stop and take in the space during a work break, all without getting in each other’s way.


In New York—a city full of tourists, traffic, and tall buildings that block sight lines—views and space are at a premium. That’s why Mathews and Nielsen try to maximize both. “One of the most remarkable comments we got in a community outreach,” says Mathews of one project located next to the Bronx River, “was from a kid who said he wanted us to design a space where he could ‘make memories and have his picture taken with a friend.’ ” So the firm did just that, creating an amphitheater of stone seats that offered a perfect backdrop for social media documentation. It’s further proof that in the same way parks must evolve to reflect changing needs and mores, so must their designers.


Kathy Kopp
Barnard Ave.

6 thoughts on “LETTER: Don’t Sacrifice the Open Space Feel of Victory Field for Athletics

  1. I agree with Kathy Kopps and think that Watertown needs to take advantage of the open space of Victory field rather than turn it into some athletic complex. This is a great piece.

    On another note…and not to beat a dead horse….but I was at Victory Field for the 4th of July celebration with my two small children. It was a beautiful, hot day and as we waited in line to go on the waterslide, I couldn’t help notice the disgusting, likely toxic stench that the breeze brought over from the turf field. It smelled like overheating rubber and was unavoidable and overwhelming. There was no fresh air to take in. So while I’m all about open, outdoor spaces that the kids and the community can utilize to enjoy outside recreation, I believe that we’ve already ruined Victory Field with Phase I by putting in the turf with the crumb rubber. I feel bad for the residents surrounding Victory Field, especially on hot breezy days when the rubber heats up and it smells like a tire factory all around. It’s too bad that we allowed for this to happen all because the athletic community wanted a state of the art complex and “it would save money”, “it’s what other towns are doing”, or “study’s have shown…”. It’s unfortunate that we collectively could not use our common sense: Real Grass+ Real Dirt = Good, versus.. Plastic Grass+Rubber Recycled Tire Dirt = NOT Good.

    No study has been able measure long term effects of these fields and the EPA and other federal agencies just put together a research plan only in February of this year due to the growing concerns. My guess is that it will eventually be found that towns across America have been duped by these field manufacturers, citing bogus studies, and that we’ve willingly allowed toxic materials to be used to cover the field that our children play on, not to mention what the impacts of ground water will be as these substances leach into the ground. Thank you.

  2. Hi Kathy, I enjoyed your letter…. I agree that it is important to have open green spaces. Victory Field is the only “Athletic Complex” this town has. It needs to be first rate for the betterment of our athletes and citizens alike. I see countless citizens using the track or playing in the tennis/basketball courts, so I am not sure I get your point of people being shut out of the parks. We have great fields and spaces at Bemis, Filippello and Hosmer as well. I would also point to the great improvements along the Charles River over the last several years (not just Charles River Rd, but Greenough BLVD as well). The parks, paths and docks are some of the nicest in any surrounding community and are enjoyed by so many walkers, bikers, runners, strollers and the like. The river is such a great natural resource and we should all be proud of the improvements the Town has made to allow the citizens to enjoy it more.

    In response to AnoninH2O, I was not there on the Fourth, but heard from several friends that the Recreation Department put on a great day for families. My boys have played on the turf for several years now, in both hot and cold weather. I have never come across a “disgusting toxic stench”. I wonder if the smell could have been the hot plastic inflatables that lined the field or the fans that power the slides and bounce houses blowing and circulating hot air on a hot humid day. As I mentioned, I was not there on the 4th but I have been on the turf on very hot days and have never smelled anything you described.

  3. I agree that there needs to be a balance between structured athletic space and the public parks in Watertown. We must all understand that our wonderful town is not like many others in many great ways but in others not so advantaged. Open parks and field space being a disadvantage. Given this, a balance of park land and Athletics should be maintained. I agree with John, we have some great parks as he mentioned. We also have 160000 sq feet of Plastic turf for use unlike most other towns. Our kids benefit from this and all the natural turf fields in town as do the unscheduled times playing on the grass fields. This field space is used by the community in great numbers, young ,older ,toddlers, walking, playing in sand, toddler park and of course games/meets. I love going to Victory Field Park oval to throw disc with my daughter and others on the cool grass. I also support our schools Academically and extra curricularly. My thoughts are we should preserve the feel of the park while improving the track with minimal impact to the open space as possible. This area also is burdened with extreme lighting into homes, currently most days of the week until 10-10:15. This is a big change from before phase 1 which not only affects direct abutters but homes up and down the area. This comes back to balance throughout Watertown to support all the needs of our residents in a fair and open manner. Thanks Kathy for starting a conversation.

  4. I agree that abutters to VF need more consideration. There are other spaces in Watertown that can and should be used for sports. A small town such as ours with more and more multifamily units needs open, park-like spaces for informal family interactions with young children, for elders and for unscheduled outdoor activity. There is no need for one area of town to have so much intense sports-related lighting and equipment, noise and traffic while other parts of the same town have too little.
    Thanks to Kathy Kopp and Mr Fairbairn for their complex and thoughtful letters. I agree with them but can’t attend the meeting because I am out of town.
    Ann Asnes

  5. Everyone agrees that we should have parks and open spaces. Victory Field, however, has been designated by the town for almost 100 years as our town’s high school athletic complex. It’s for that reason it’s always been called Victory “Field” and not Victory Park. The area inside the track is not a park. It’s a permitted soccer/lacrosse/field hockey/football field. The kids should be our first priority. We should be a more welcoming town to families. It may be used by residents when not in use by the town. There is plenty of green space just around Victory Field for residents to enjoy.

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