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Exploring the Power of Place

Monroe County's War on Terror Memorial

December 28, 2021

Sometimes projects are personal and professional. They are more than numbers on a spreadsheet, they are places that connect us to our history, to the natural world, and to each other. Planning for the War on Terror Memorial in Monroe County, New York’s Highland Park began in 2016. Its commemoration on September 11, 2021 marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and paid tribute to the fallen men and women who served in the War on Terror.  The project makes a positive contribution to the Highland Park neighborhood and the Monroe County Parks system, and honors all those who serve in the US Armed Forces.

All projects begin with a plan – the War on Terror Memorial (WOTM) was no exception. The B&L Team was selected by Monroe County Parks in 2016 to update the existing Master Plan for the County’s Highland Park South. Consisting of approximately 55-acres, Highland Park South is adjacent to historic Highland Park, one of three parks in the City of Rochester designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, a world class landscape architect best known for his creation of Central Park in New York City.

Maintaining and enriching the historic character of the park was a top priority of the County’s master planning process. The County and B&L actively engaged the Highland Park Neighborhood Association, who maintains a public group on Facebook with over 3,000 members, throughout the planning process to achieve this goal. In December 2016, our team was called to a meeting with County Parks and the Monroe County Veterans Administration (MCVA). The result – our team was tasked with adding a War on Terror Memorial site selection process to the Highland Park Master Plan, specifically to:

  • Honor the “Warriors of Freedom” and their families, those who served in the War on Terror.

  • Expand the existing Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Highland Park.

  • Integrate with historic Highland Park through a contiguous landscape design vocabulary.

  • Design a memorial for a new generation of veterans, bridging 2 centuries (first Gulf War was 20th century; Afghanistan and Iraq were 21st century).

  • Memorialize the first USA wars fought with all-volunteer/professional military, a historical change reflecting our evolving democracy.

  • Design a “Memorial of Hope” that one day these conflicts will end forever.

The MCVA and local veterans of the War on Terror became key stakeholders in the Master Plan development, led by Hector Sotomayor, Chairman of the WOTM Project Committee and US Marine veteran of the War on Terror. Hector became part of our design team – we listened, we worked together, and we selected a location for the WOTM. Concept design sketches were embraced by all; however, the estimated budget was 50% higher than the $200,000 budget. Hector’s reaction:

This is what we want to build. Don’t worry, we will raise the money.”

And over the next 4 years, Hector and his friends did exactly that.

In July, 2020, with fundraising complete, B&L was awarded a contract from Monroe County for preliminary and final design of the War on Terror Memorial, a modest concrete plaza flanked by columns and framed by two gateways. The columns bear emblems of the five military branches and are engraved with the names of the fallen. Concrete seat walls face long views out across Highland Park to the southeast. The limited construction budget informed the design but did not constrain it. Geometry, materials and finishes are intentionally clean and simple. The design provides a space of prospect and refuge; it conveys a sense of strength and serenity. The memorial is illuminated to welcome visitors after dark.

The project was substantially completed for commemoration on September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The opening ceremony was well-attended by the community, local dignitaries, and the Gold Star Families of those who were killed in action. Like the names engraved on the columns, some of the words spoken will be forever etched in our memories. The gratitude expressed by the Gold Star Families for the creation of the memorial was humbling. It is gratifying to know that they now have a place to remember their loved ones. A place to look back and to look forward.

The recently announced New York State Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) awards included numerous green space and parks-focused grant awards. Municipal recipients of such grants are ideally positioned for integrating a memorial or similar commemorative tribute into their project planning or design. Please feel free to contact our Sustainable Planning & Design team if you’d like to discuss opportunities for enhancing your public space.

Sustainable Planning & Design

This article is from members of the Sustainable Planning & Design Practice Area.

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