64. Prosperity in Town Squares
Public squares and niches create positive outside spaces
With the development of the downtown Performing Arts Center in the mid 1980s land was set aside directly adjacent for the creation of the Town Square Park. After a few years of fundraising the park was created and has developed into a perfect example of a public square creating a positive outside space. I don't know what the Town Square Park was like when it was first built, but I know what it is like now. And it is one of my favorite areas of this city. Some of the many summer events include Live After Five, world class flowers, and Grad Chalk graffiti in celebration of the class of 2017's graduation from high school. (An initiative of the city and United Way for 90% graduation by 2020). Winter events include an ice skating rink and an Ice Sculpture gallery. The city works hard at making Town Square Park a safe and inviting space. I look forward to seeing how recent efforts of change create a positive affect.
From what I have read, part the evolution of public squares and niches was the rise of automobiles in the early 20th century. In the creation of additional roads through cities, the left over space became public squares and niches. Anchorage did not particularly go through this process because the platting of the town site was created in 1915. Only a year before that the city of Anchorage was established. So, there was not much of a process of carving out roads from a pre existing condition. I think we are pretty lucky to have a rich space such as Town Square Park.
Looking throughout the rest of the downtown landscape I see other public squares and niches, but none with the richness of Town Square Park. How can we spill this success into other spaces? What if Live after Five evolved into a band or music session in each park and Thursday's because a music walk. Street vendors or food trucks have the opportunity to be at each of these and we facilitate the movement of people to areas where there were not many before. This could have a positive effect on the surrounding shops and restaurants. More foot traffic = prosperity. Some of these areas could include:
The corner of E and 4th in front of Tequila 61
In front of the Federal building on 4th between F and G Street
The corner of the Court House at 4th and I
Next to the Atwood Building on the corner of 7th and E Street
The empty lot at 8th and K Street
The lawn in front of the Museum at 7th and C Street
The small patio at Plaza 201 at 3rd and Barrow
Any of the copious parking landscapes on third between A and E Street.
The Park Strip
The are so many more locations and so many more possible activities.
It is an interesting study to look at the public square and niches outside of the downtown area. I can see that through the layers of building the city and suburban sprawl, the concept of creating communal spaces fell off the radar. Areas were developed as vertical built elements and transportation routes to get there and little was created for communal spaces, relaxation, and public life. To go back in and develop these specific elements is near impossible and the hurdles of politics, public process, and money take cooperation and coordination from a large group of people.
Then Anchorage 2020 plan, now the Anchorage 2040 plan, does a wonderful job identifying and laying out town centers for each area of the city. What would it take to develop these areas into positive places where pedestrians can function safely and equally with other entities? That's a whole other study, perhaps on my future horizon. But until then, I will continue to enjoy the offerings that downtown provides.
Successful town squares and niches = prosperity of people and economic growth.