Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Upgrade A Downtown Park?

Phoenix Park has been an issue of concern for years.  That is what the article in the Herald – Leader had to say this morning.  The problem is nobody really seems to know just what to do about the issue.

The Parks and Recreation department is looking to do some "heavy maintenance", whatever that is, on the park in the coming year.  $75,000 worth of heavy maintenance, which compared to all of the other downtown proposals lately, does not sound very heavy. 

Jeff Fugate, president of the Downtown Development Authority, says that the government does not have the money to do a full blown renovation so the work to be done will seem like repainting in a brighter color what you really want is a new kitchen.  This job may well be just putting lipstick on a pig.

The Park Plaza apartment building next door is making an addition of 5,000 square feet of street-level retail space part of their $2 million renovation, so removing some dead trees and replacing some park furniture sounds pretty minimal.

Fugate also called the park “tired”, actually “very tired”, but then it is our only public space which get used nearly 24/7 for 9-10 months a year.  When it serves as living quarters for a segment of our less affluent residents and acts as living room, dorm room, dining room and sometimes bathroom to an ever changing gaggle of people, what would one expect?

There are a lot of folks in town who would like to rid the park of its constant visitors or semi-permanent residents but others believe that to be quite cruel.  There is even a certain segment which will avoid passing through the park because of a fear of harassment or pan-handlers, though I have never seen such occurrences of that activity. 

LFUCG Commissioner of General Services, (soon to be CAO) Sally Hamilton, claims that this “maintenance” is in no way an effort to force the “homeless”, for lack of a better description, out of the park but subtle efforts have been used before.  I do realize that the Park Place residents do find the park denizens annoying and off-putting but they should have some alternative place to go. The Phoenix Park Homeless Initiative, an effort begun in 2009 is probably still looking for a long-term solution and this is not it.

Now, I do feel that the placement of different seating could go a long way in discouraging the sleeping on the park benches.  Maybe some style of singular seating with substantial armrests between would prevent the appearance of “overnight” accommodations.  I still have trouble seeing sidewalk dining should there be a food place in the Park Place retail since the former restaurants have tried and failed to make it work.

Another common thread of complaint about Phoenix Park is the haze or cloud of smoke, be it the legal stuff or not.  Since it is a “low lying” park, should smoking be allowed there at all?  Or should smoking be restricted to well beyond the entryways to all buildings?

These may all be moot points if the funds are not included in the new FY2014 budget or the money may well be misspent if the park is included in the plans for the “day-lighting” of Town Branch and the creation of what will mimic the old idea of a “Commons” as depicted on the original town plat.

Or it could be a whitewashing of an old fence and re-arranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

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