July 12, 2007

"Nothing says progressiveness and prosperity like an elaborate urban park."

The Capital Times on Mayor Dave's idea for "Madison's Central Park."
[P]lans may gain momentum this summer on a $24 million Central Park on 17 acres in what was once the industrial core of the Near East Side.
That "industrial core" area does look bleak and empty.
"This is the most consequential public improvement for the Isthmus for the next 50 years, " said former Madison Mayor Joe Sensenbrenner, comparing its potential effect to Monona Terrace and Overture Center. He 's a member of a committee Mayor Dave Cieslewicz appointed this year to develop a plan for the park
Monona Terrace and the Overture Center were huge public improvements. I'm not seeing why it's always time for another.
Across the country, citizens and planners are finding that developing urban parks can create special challenges, namely how they fit into existing neighborhoods and business districts. And now that prime urban real estate is more scarce and expensive, "it 's much more challenging to satisfy everyone 's notion of what a park should be, " says Witold Rybczynski, a professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania.

The larger debate about the purpose of a park often pits people who believe in peace and quiet and the soulful contemplation of nature against those who prefer zip lines, Frisbee golf and hang gliding.

In Madison, Cieslewicz 's 12-member commission is expected to answer those types of questions, including: Should the park serve the neighborhood or region? Will it include a skate park? A concert stage? Where will visitors park?
Park? They don't worry about that in NYC. It seems to me that if you want to build a Central Park, it should be beautiful green space available to people who are downtown and in need of respite. It's not a destination in itself. If you want an amusement park that will pull in crowds, put it in the outskirts of town where it's easy to park.

What we need in that scarily empty near east area is more buildings. It's not urban enough. There's nothing to seek respite from. Sure, make some of that land a beautiful park, but not for people to drive in to visit. Make it a place where we want to live and can live and where it will be urban enough that we'll feel the need for a little stroll in the park... that we can walk to.


hdhouse said...

I was in downtown Grand Rapids a short while back. They built a wonderful set of areas near the river and in the middle of the part of town and then made affordable office space near the museum. Problem is that when the office people leave at 5p the downtown deserts like in desert!

It is a fine mix to service the occupation crowd and attract to the area as a refuge destination...and probably very difficult.

Tulsa developed the Riverside area and stuck with it and in spite of a downtown that exits at 5, the park is alive all day and most of the evening with joggers, walkers, picnics and impromptu gatherings...but then again it took time to make it a mainstay.

Just saying that it isn't an easy set of decisions and once started, fairly hard to reverse the course...but your observation is right...urban parks can really work for the city and its inhabitants if done well.

Ann Althouse said...

Madison isn't deserted at night. Some people -- residents -- think there's too much activity (from the bar crowd). But the area just east of the Capitol is weirdly empty when it could be great. The Capitol Square and the area west of it is great.

MadisonMan said...

The area is a wasteland, but very near downtown and on a bike path, and near many other lakeside parks. I don't quite see the need for another park there -- especially since it's not going to be on either lake.

Why not build affordable housing there? Some single family houses, and a Monroe Streetish or Willy Streetish environment. That'll generate tax revenue -- what'll a park do?

I'm Full of Soup said...

Hdhouse said:
"I was in downtown Grand Rapids a short while back"

Is this your way of describing gay sex at a public water park?


Very few people (you are one) would look at an open space where everyone else wants a park while and you say "more buildings". I love your interesting take on things.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'll take a $24M park over the stupid trolley which is going to cost how much?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that if you want to build a Central Park, it should be beautiful green space available to people who are downtown and in need of respite. It's not a destination in itself. If you want an amusement park that will pull in crowds, put it in the outskirts of town where it's easy to park.

Could not agree more. Sounds like they're going to bungle the job. Which is mind boggling. How hard is it to design a park? All you need is a good landscape architect. Parking!!!??? Good grief. I thought we were suppose to abandon the car, anyway.

Anthony said...

I like your last paragraph, Ann. It says just what I was thinking. Madison's too small to have a massive park at its core. Parks work best when they are distributed and can be used easily by locals. Who wants to get in their car, drive halfway across town, and look for parking just to, um, find some peace and quiet?

Seattle developed like that, lots of smaller little parks spread around town. There are a few "destination" parks, but those tend to be that way because of geography (an urban lake, or shoreline, for example). Like Picnic Point is in Madison. But, they have parking problems. I don't often go to our Green Lake park because it's a b*tch to find parking. If I want to lie in the grass and watch the clouds, I'll go in my back yard or pop down to one of the two smaller parks a couple blocks away. Nature shouldn't be a destination, it should be a common part of the landscape.

Maxine Weiss said...

Nature should take it's rightful place in the forest. It doesn't belong with cement buildings. When you try to mix the two, you end up with bad imitations of both.

Althouse fails to recognize that the wilderness, the Mountains, and the forest, have always been destinations in themselves. People "go" camping. People "go" hiking.

I kind of destroys the idea of a nature walk, hiking trail, and mountain climbing, if all you're doing is walking across the street to have those experiences, and a sanitized, glorified urban environment.

Althouse doesn't seem to want to have "real" experiences anymore. Everything with her has to be virtual, and right nextdoor to the nearest coffee house!

chickelit said...

Did the CapTimes and WSJ merge more than production facilities since I left the Madcity?

Once upon a time that distinction meant something, and said something about the reader too

I belive your first link to the Journal.

dick said...

I like what Cleveland did years ago. They built a whole chain of parks (I think it was 22 if I remember right) which were scattered throughout the city so that almost every neighborhood had a green park area but most of the parks were not huge like Central Park. It breaks up the city and gives everyone a chance to commune with nature.

That makes more sense to me than having a huge park in the middle of downtown. Unless you have a whole bunch of events going on there is just becomes a mugger's paradise. I would rather have something I can go to to sit under the trees and watch a few people from the neighborhood stroll around and chat with each other, just enjoying the neighborhood.

Randy said...

Cetnral parks are great for demonstrations and outdoor concerts. Other than that, smaller scale aprks in various neighborhoods would be more useful, and if targeted correctly, help improve desirability of many of them.

Unknown said...

A little late getting here...

If you look across Lake Monona towards Olin Park from John Nolan in the winter while the Christmas light display is lit, it's not hard to imagine a permanent amusement park there.

Controllable access with plenty of parking, easily policed, just a few houses and a church there now but otherwise unused land.

This could be a place for younger and older folks to gather through most of the year, with options for entertainment venues, food, games, rides, the works.

Reachable by foot, bike, bus, and car; centrally located and near the pool; no noise problems with no nearby neighbors (houses and church gone); kind of a return to the days of the Chitaqua meetings of the turn of the century.

Wouldn't be bad for tourism either.

Ok, now I can die in peace; I've finally told someone this scathingly brilliant albeit never-to-happen idea!