Friday, June 17, 2011

My Ideas From Greenville - Without Making The Trip

The word is filtering back from the Commerce Lexington trip to Greenville S.C. about the lovely landscaped public spaces and the many shaded garden spots which dot their downtown.  The implication is that we here in Lexington could and should do similar spaces.  We can, but it would not be the same.  I don't think that we know HOW to treat our public open spaces.

For the most part, we are pigs when it comes to using our current public space downtown and elsewhere.  

I was at Thursday Night Live, an idea that we borrowed from Greenvile, and watched as our young, vibrant revelers began their evenings drinking festivities and the aging rockers mixed with the other downtown dwellers, all to some really decent music. Some were there to be seen and some were there to partake of a free event so graciously provided by sponsors there to take your money any way they can.  

On the one side there were the roped off sections of the bars and restaurants along Cheapside and alcohol flowing as quickly as they could bring out a fresh supply.  Tables, chairs and patio umbrellas for those who got there early.  Lots of smiles, handshakes and hugs and kisses all around.  There is one tree on that side of the pavilion and the area around the base, just a patch of bare ground, was used as a staging/storage space for the outdoor bar.  Nothing like what is described from Greenville.

On the old courthouse side there are two trees and their patches of dirt which were used for some seating and stroller parking or just plain walking over.  You see, the sidewalk was filled with sponsors booths and a couple of expensive new autos on display.  Not a blade of grass in either of them.  Between the bourbon beer truck, the new autos and the food/wine tents clustered at the front "entrance" to the space there was no space left to get around.  The lush greenery spoken of in Greenville is not to be seen in Lexington.

Between the kids, the dogs, the jostled drinks and the sometimes breezy gusts of wind, by the end of the show the ground is littered with spilled food (with or without containers), napkins/wrappers, cigarette butts and who knows what all.  Were we all raised to do this kind of thing in our own homes?  I don't think so.  So, why do we do it in our cherished public spaces.

The new Court House Plaza is no different.  The grassy lawn is beginning to show stress and wear along the edges of the pavers and the vegetable oil stain from the Kettle Korn booth of last falls Spotlight Festival is still visible.  Chewing gum blotches and butts are a common sight no matter how many folks they have sweeping the place each morning.  Young children running from fountain to fountain and sometimes a discarded or forgotten article of clothing will join the wet litter at the drain.  Why do we do this?

Our new, wide sidewalks and their environmentally correct rain gardens are sparsely planted and occasionally weeded, but the litter which shows up in them is usually left for a few days.  I have noticed that they have irrigation tubing, for when it is really dry, but it is supposed to be buried in the mulch and not laid out on the surface.  Since we have spent so much money of designing and building these things, shouldn't we act like we are going to maintain them correctly?

Should I even mention the Phoenix Park?  Have we not abandoned that to the "homeless" and others who are down on their luck?  This park, with the intellectually enhanced library on one side and a fountain and mock stream on the other for the non-readers.  How else would the parents let their children play and climb on the rocks, when it is plainly signed as prohibited?  The park benches are all scratched and faded as are the lighted bollards while graffiti mars the few tables there.  Do we even care about this place?

Thoroughbred Park is too far east for most downtown people to get to and Triangle Park is being rebuilt ( I can't wait to see how quickly we can get to work on that  one) and still we want to take over a portion of the CentrePointe block - as public open space.  Are we nuts?  We don't take care of what we have in the way of non-revenue producing property and we are asking for more.

Greenville has spent three decades bringing their streetscape plan to life and has some apparently beautiful downtown trees while we are on our third set of saplings along Main and Vine since they went one-way back in the early '70s.  There is no reason to bring ideas back from these quality cities if we do not also bring the will to use them in a sustainable manner.  Private property owners can evict and prohibit those who abuse their open space or they can charge sufficient fees to cover the maintenance or repairs.  Public spaces have no such luxuries. 

We HAVE to quit abusing our public open spaces.


rakatko said...

Nice post - a few thoughts:

Green spaces should be considered a critical aspect of urban infrastructure, providing opportunities for naturalistic stormwater management via the use of rain gardens (help out that aging storm sewer system...), expansion of the urban forest canopy (which reduces urban heat island effect, provides some ability to soak up stormwater, sequesters carbon, and increases air quality), and creation of a lush, green visual identity for Lexington.

Streetsweeper said...

Those thoughts are a foregone conclusion and appear to be part of our design considerations today. What we don't do is maintain those that we DO put in and then we, as a society, do all that we can to destroy them.

We, as a group, need to protect and preserve what we have before we add to it.

Tom Martin said...

"There is no reason to bring ideas back from these quality cities if we do not also bring the will to use them in a sustainable manner."
I could not agree more. When you spend a little time in another place -like a Greenville or a Madison or a Boulder- and experience what it's like to actually move about in an environment that clearly has been respected and cared for, you do return to Lexington with this sense that our problem runs more deeply than a few trees and water features can remedy. This is very much a "mindset" thing. And I don't have a clue as to how you go about changing mindset on a rapid enough and broad enough scale to get us to where we need to go soon enough that we might be able to enjoy it in our lifetimes. Sorry about the cynicism here. But Streetsweeper is giving us an honest, sober observation about ourselves and it wouldn't hurt us, at all, to reflect on them and consider whether we really do want the change we talk about so endlessly. Because, if we do, we're going to have to accept that we need to make some changes in our own behavior. And that's a tall order.