Rally to save Pawtucket’s last green space in environmental justice neighborhood on Saturday

“Let’s not pave over this valuable green space to put up a parking lot,” said Jennifer Stewart, candidate for House District 59. “Instead, let’s invest in environmental justice.”

Rhode Island News: Rally to save Pawtucket’s last green space in environmental justice neighborhood on Saturday

September 1, 2022, 10:33 am

By Steve Ahlquist

Morley Field, the only large green space in the dense Pawtucket neighborhood of Woodlawn, is in danger of being paved over into a parking lot. Jennifer Stewart, a candidate for House District 59, has organized a community gathering for neighbors to voice their concerns at Morley Field, 94 Moshassuck Street, on Saturday, September 3rd at 4pm.

The plan to turn Morley Field into a parking lot is considered to be an example of environmental racism by environmental advocates. The Woodlawn neighborhood (which is just north of Providence, along I-95, west of Pawtucket Ave.) is approximately 74% people of color where 59% of people living at or below the poverty rate, and 29% are children. Woodlawn is a working class neighborhood where most people live in tripledeckers or multifamily units, often with no backyard. Since the 1970s families in Woodlawn have used Morley field for little league games, Pop Warner football, picnics and reunions, and as a place to relax and breathe. For the families who live in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Pawtucket, it is an invaluable green space, and escape from the densely populated corner of the city. Morley Field is also a rare public access point to the Moshassuck River, and home to nesting osprey protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

At a recent Pawtucket Planning Commission meeting, which voted to advance the plan to sell of Morley Field, people spoke out against the proposal. No member of the public spoke in favor of paving the park.

Jennifer Stewart

“The loss of Morley Field will have a substantial and profound impact on the health and wellbeing of our community and especially on the children,” said Jennifer Stewart. “Let us provide this under-resourced, densely populated, historically marginalized and underserved area of our District 5 community, equal quality and accessibility to healthy greenspace. Children of District 5 deserve and should have the same opportunity for healthy greenspace and recreational/athletic activities available in all other districts in this city.

“I see it as a moral imperative and the right and proper thing to do,” continued Stewart. “Morley Field, by virtue of having been largely funded by the National Park Service’s Land & Water Conservation Fund Assistance, enjoys the protection that it be maintained for perpetual public use as a recreational green space. Morley Field also enjoys further protection due to the fact that approximately half of the field (Lot 291) was gifted by the then President of Narraganset Wire Company, Mr. William H Morley, for the specific purpose that it be maintained as a youth recreational field to be named the “William H Morley Memorial Field.” As such, it cannot be sold by the City of Pawtucket, which is specifically prohibited by State Statute (R.I.G.L. § 45-2-6) which states that land acquired by gift for public use, ‘is not subject to disposition.'”

Pawtucket City Councilmember Clovis Gregor (District 5) who voted in favor of the truck depot and the parking lot, is now out against the proposal to pave Morley Field.

“The Pawtucket City Council’s passage of the resolution (August of last year), authorizing the proposed conditional sale agreement for Morley Field, was unlawful as it exceeded the City Council’s authority as specifically preempted by said state statute prohibiting such conveyance of property gifted to the city for public use,” said Councilmember Gregor. “Thus, the Resolution authorizing the City to enter into an agreement for the sale of Morley Field should have never been brought before the City Council and should be properly voided.”

The developers of the new trucking depot being built on the 10.2-acre Microfibres site want Morley Field for an additional parking lot, and in exchange plan to provide funding for a new park between the Riverside Cemetery and Max Read Field in the Oak Hill neighborhood along the Pawtucket River. This would deprive Woodlawn of its only large green space, while adding another park in Oak Hill which is adjacent to Blackstone Boulevard and Providence’s East Side. Pawtucket and the truck depot developers present this a binary choice, but it’s a false dichotomy. Why not maintain Morley Field in Woodlawn and add the new park in Oak Hill?

The City says that in the process of moving to sell Morley Field it was discovered to be contaminated and unsafe. However, it was the City, relying on data supplied by a contractor hired by the developer and not the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) which closed the field last spring, and there doesn’t seem to have been any analysis of what could be done to clean up Morley Field and make it safe for recreation again. Uprise RI was told by DEM Director Terry Gray that their investigation is ongoing.

Morley Field