The Value of Public Space in Urban Environments

“Pocket parks” like this one in New York City can create vibrant urban gathering spaces that entice passersby and residents alike. And they pay long-term economic dividends too! (PHOTO: Sustainable Cities Collective)

Urban Land reports on the importance of public spaces in making livable communities work. Specifically, the article focuses on the value of parks, gardens, rooftop gardens, and other spaces in urban environments, as well as the return that they generate. The High Line, in New York City, for example, cost the city $115 million in public funds and $44 million from the private sector, but increased boosted property values around the 1.5-mile elevated former freight rail line by as much as $2 billion and added 12,000 jobs to the local economy. That’s a killer ROI.

In addition, the article notes that safety and accessibility are key, as is adaptability. If the park or public space cannot be used for other purposes, then in many cases it may as well not be built. Hopefully the planners of the Riverfront Park Master Plan will keep this in mind when working on designs. We’ve also heard that the South Hill Coalition has some pocket parks and other small urban spaces up their sleeves as well, so perhaps we could see some nice urban spaces in neighborhoods in our future.

What do you think? Could Spokane use more urban spaces? What does the ROI for the High Line tell you about the economic potential of open space and public space investment? Share your comments here, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you!

Idea #11: Make the U.S. Pavilion a Community “Lantern”

Imagine this, but spread throughout the entire Pavilion superstructure on a new, translucent material. (PHOTO: CardCow)

Among the proposals being considered as part of the Riverfront Park Master Plan, the Parks Board and the Riverfront Park Advisory Committee are exploring the possibility of recovering the U.S. Pavilion structure in Riverfront Park and lighting it in order to make an incredibly unique architectural statement.

During Expo 74, the Pavilion was covered by a white vinyl material that easily ripped and tore, exposing the structural steel underneath. After the World’s Fair, Spokane residents chose to keep the superstructure, but the vinyl cover posed a safety hazard, and was taken down. Now, we have the opportunity to re-cover the Pavilion with a “durable, translucent material like Teflon-coated fiberglass,” (The Inlander) that didn’t exist back in the 70s.

Most interestingly, however, this recovering invites the possibility of lighting the superstructure as a sort of “lantern” for the community. A color could be chosen for typical nights, but events would offer an opportunity to show some character. Imagine the possibilities! The Pavilion could be lit in blue and green for Seahawks games, or lilac for Lilac Festival, or the color of the Bloomsday shirt for that year, or rainbow for gay pride events, or blue and red during the Zags’ March Madness run.

What do you think? Should the Pavilion be recovered and lit? Do you think that it sends a unique statement to the community? Share your thoughts in comments, tweets, posts, and responses.

Idea #9: Teen/Youth Center

This teen center was reconstructed from an old Pacific Gas & Electric facility in Berkeley, CA and built to LEED Platinum standards. (PHOTO: GreenSource Magazine)

Downtown Spokane desperately needs to solve its “disengaged youth” problem. (Naturally, others might, not-so-respectfully, call it a “street kid” problem.) It has tried playing classical music to try to deter potential congregants. It has tried using a high-pitched “mosquito” to do likewise. But perhaps deterrence is the wrong type of medicine.

Perhaps we need to take a more decisive and solutions-based approach to this problem. Perhaps we need something like a teen/youth center downtown for 13-22 year olds. Currently, there are few such facilities that cater to youth downtown. If we were able to re-route kids off of the streets and into more positive pursuits, then perhaps we could also have a strong chance at reversing the cycle of poverty that plagues many of these children. Especially if such a center offered homework assistance and skills development programs, like word processing clinics and the like. Ideally, it would bring together services from various nonprofit groups under one roof, and while it need not be as fancy as the YMCA-PG&E facility shown above, it could make a big difference and send a positive message to our city’s youth.

The Legacy of Expo ’74

PHOTO: Seville Enterprises, Inc.

Even now, Spokane is pretty proud of Expo ’74. As the smallest city to ever host a World’s Fair, we certainly have a right to be proud of the accomplishment. #spokanerising does its part with an Expo 74-inspired favicon and social media icons. But Expo really did clean up our dilapidated downtown. It really did relocate dozens of acres of railroad facilities, and it really did permanently throw our “Skid Row” of sorts, West Trent (now Spokane Falls Boulevard), out of the picture. Our Fair was the first ever to have an environmental theme, “Celebrating Tomorrow’s Fresh New Environment.” And no less, we had the chutzpah to celebrate the planet in an era defined by the consumption and excess of a steadily-growing American middle class. It was a bold statement on the part of a bold city.

But what is the legacy of Expo ’74? What has been the lasting benefit to our city and region?

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