Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cherry Blossoms, Alleys, and Gargoyles: Urban Exploring in the Emptied City

Though the weather wasn't always sunny, at least it wasn't rainy, and the weekend offered peak cherry blossom! If you haven't been out for an urban ramble, in between bits of rain this week will be a great time for one.

The city's best cherry tree?  Could make an old-timey postcard for sure
The cherry trees on the Capitol Mall may get most of the press, and there are many other clusters of them in other parks, along streets, and in yards, but this scene at Willamette, just outside of the library, along the Mill Race, might be the best of all of them. One perfectly placed tree in a grassy curve just off Jackson plaza. The elements of earth and water and sky encounter the built environment, here dedicated to music and to learning, in a harmony altogether uncharacteristic of Salem. Really lovely.

(The tree is also, I believe, part of a memorial to those Japanese-American students forced to leave Willamette in 1942 and sent to internment camps.  Especially now with the blossoms, it is a fitting place for contemplation on the too-fleetingness of the good and beautiful.)

A friend of the blog has shared a copy of Jeff Speck's Walkable City for review, and it'll be great fun.  Are any of you reading it?  It would be fun to work through it chapter-by-chapter in an online salon!  Speck's criteria for walkability call for a city's approach to be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting.  The question of interest was particularly on the mind in the city emptied of folks by spring break.

What are the surfaces, forms, actions, and vistas that create an interesting walk?

Alleys are an important part of this in a city!   Over at Upright Cyclist, B+ has continued the series on the downtown alley between Liberty and Commercial.  (B+ also has a note about a terrible bike rack and brutalist architecture at the SAIF building in the Pringle Creek Urban Renewal area.)

Over at Salemis, Sarah writes about the fly and grasshopper gargoyles mounted on the sides of buildings in the alley between Liberty and High. 

Salem downtown alley improvements from the mid-80s
A significant chunk of work was done in the 1980s on the alleys, it turns out. Last summer the Historic Landmarks Commission reviewed a proposal about a change:  One of the strange arches in that alley is going to be (or has already been?) demolished.  The Staff Report has more information about the alley project.

1996 Downtown Plan
The space between Penney's and the Parkade is especially barren, and how nice would it be to activate these spaces again!

Another friend of the blog found this great study from 1996! The 1996 Riverfront/Downtown Core Area Master Plan is fascinating - both for what was done and for what was left undone. It'll take a while to look through it, but it's especially interesting in light of the Downtown Mobility Study.

One of the things it featured was a proposal for "pedestrian streets," complete with a widened 30 foot sidewalk.   Even more interesting, it proposed Court Street for this treatment!

Court Street section with proposed 30 foot sidewalk
It was never built, unfortunately. The vision for the entry to Riverfront Park is a real missed opportunity.

Here's a plan view of the wider sidewalk on Court side-by-side with the current view. Compare the proposal - no surface parking lots! - to what is there today.  And imagine the tables at Venti's with a 30 foot sidewalk.

1996 vision v. current reality
missed opportunity on sidewalks and plaza

Camellias like icing on a cake
One thing that immediately stands out is the absence of sidewalk widening in the current mobility study.  For people walking it envisions crossing improvements at difficult intersections, but no fundamental expansion of walking space.  There will be more to say on the 1996 study over the spring! 

Back to urban rambling over the weekend, the Erythronium festival is a little more than a week away, but the lilies are flowering at Deepwood right now! So are currants and other early flowering things. Camas is just around the corner in a month!

Since the city is so quiet - take a moment to stop and smell the flowers!

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