While the intent behind Peace Plaza is laudable, the space rarely functions as a gathering place. With City Hall's weekday 9-5 hours on one side, the Library on the other, and two busy, busy one-way streets completing the boundaries, Peace Plaza usually shows the peace of eternal rest more often than anything else. It's dead mostly. That can't have been the intent and design!
So let's think seriously about seizing the moment offered by a City Hall renovation/expansion to relocate Peace Plaza to a more lively site. And in whatever is left between the Library and an expanded City Hall, let's create a new and different public space that works.
|One of the few scheduled events in Peace Plaza:|
A Talk and Vigil for Peace in Syria, August 2012
(Notice, however, that the Peace Plaza proper in the distance
is not usable for gatherings!)
As a loitering place, it's a little stubborn. As the Library offers warmth, shelter, and bathrooms for those who don't always have them, the plaza is sometimes a place for cigarette breaks. Sometimes this can be intimidating, especially for children, families, or solitary women. It's not an unsafe space, but it doesn't always feel effortlessly safe.
There's not the burble of activity, eyes, and ears that make for a safe and inviting public space. All people should be welcome - but that means more people, more different sorts of people, and more and different activities.
|Is anyone there?|
No visibility or intuitive connection from Liberty;
the berm closes off the space on this side
|Better visibility and connection from Commercial,|
but adjacent uses not very active;
no shopping, no sidewalk life, only a cafe with limited hours
But the problems aren't just with the plaza.
Citing the example of Boston, some have argued that we should just level City Hall and build anew.
There is a strong case to be made for tearing it down. It is the ugliest major building in the city. It will not survive "the big one." It is now too small to house the city offices and the police department (though maybe not as small as some might think. Why spend 65 million (the figure you hear for the City Hall renovation and new police building) and end up having to still look at that horrible concrete heap for decades to come. Boston is considering tearing down its brutalist City Hall.There's something to be said for that! With increasing citizen suspicion of just about any policy change or plan the City tries to introduce, the fortress of City Hall and Council Chambers can't possibly be helping bridge relationships. Expressed in architecture, there's nothing warm and fuzzy about City institutions.
(For more on the City Hall/Police Station project see here, and the new City project site here.)
Regardless of what you think of City Hall, the plaza fails most tests for being a good public space:
|Peace Plaza meets few of these criteria|
Place Making diagram from Project for Public Spaces
|Sites previously considered for a Town Square|
- A proposal to purchase the area west of the railroad tracks and south of Eco Earth and Minto Island Bridge to add to the Park.
The other item on the agenda, "the Pringle Creek linear park through the Boise property" and completing the greenway between Riverfront Park and Willamette University, is planned and already in the works, and it is not clear why people feel this is at risk.
This is, actually, the one secure part of the deal! Pringle Creek will be daylighted and the path completed. The only part that is not certain is the timeline on the section of the path in the Boise parcel that will be privately developed.
Back to Peace Plaza, it's great to see citizens organizing, meeting, and discussing - but let's not be afraid of change!
|Peace Plaza in the early evening|
(click to enlarge)