2014-06-05 / Around Town


Visiting, and Revisiting, Queen Anne Square

I t's been just about one year since Queen Anne Square was rededicated after a $3 million redesign led by the famed landscape architect Maya Lin.

The effort, which was led by the Newport Restoration Foundation and the Doris Duke Monument Foundation, was not without controversy. For months, Newporters went back and forth over the appropriateness of the design and the expense of the project (which was funded solely with private donations). At times, the debate became rather heated as letters to the editor filled endless column inches.

As a community, we tend to take great pride in our surroundings, as we should. Projects such as the one at Queen Anne Square are important, and therefore sensitive.

Which is why it's important to revisit the park today.

Last weekend, a small but noticeable group could be seen studiously surveying the park, its stone installations, and grounds. Some, sporting small notebooks, jotted down notes while others seemed content to simply enjoy the late spring weather.

It turns out the group had driven up from points south for the day on an afternoon pilgrimage to view Lin's latest, and perhaps most unassuming, public installation.

Joan Caldwin was among the group's members. She explained they had gotten into town earlier in the day, having traveled from just outside of Norwalk, Conn. They had decided to visit after reading about the park in a local newspaper last year. For Caldwin, it was her time in Newport. Along with visits to the Newport Art Museum and the Redwood Library, the "mostly retired" group was just getting ready to head home.

They had planned their day perfectly, ending it with a sunset view at the top of Queen Anne Square.

Marveling at the vision of Doris Duke, who had seen the potential in creating a park from what had been a sorry strip of buildings, and of Lin, who in their words seemed to have bridged the park with the mission of Duke's NRF, the group raved over the accessibility the park offers to experience directly the work of one of the art world's modern masters.

They were also delighted to be able to sit on one of the park's benches.

Whether this visiting band of art aficionados is unique or is reflective of a larger segment of tourists who are being drawn to the city to view Lin's landscape is unclear. However, one thing is certain: since being remade, the square has been drawing in larger numbers of people.

According to Newport Tree Warden Scott Wheeler, while there are no hard numbers, "the City and the Queen Anne Square maintenance trust are delighted that people are traveling to Newport specifically to experience Maya Lin's Meeting Room."

"From the start, the vision was to make the park a destination and we are overwhelmed by how many visitors to Newport and locals we find enjoying the park on a daily basis. It is not clear how many people come specifically to see the park, but it is clear that people no longer simply walk through the park but instead spend considerable time enjoying this beautiful public space."

And it's that last bit that's the most important.

Regardless of where one may have fallen during the debate over the park's redesign, the early signs are that the area is better off, and we as a city now have a showpiece park which we should all enjoy.

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