Cities are investing in parks as a strategy to turn downtowns around. Parks that bring all kinds of people together can be major attractions — but they must be exceptionally well designed and programmed.
In St. Louis, Citygarden took a wide swath of bland lawn extending through downtown and suffused it with an promenade, sculpture garden, and kid-friendly features.
Redevelopment in San Jose’s downtown financed the modernization of Cesar Chavez Park, which is welcoming all year but especially during the holiday season when extravagant displays draw large crowds.
In suburban Windsor, California, a Town Green offers lots of things to do with new-urban flair and is now a regional focal point. (The need and potential for the Green was conceived by the author when developing Windsor’s General Plan and Design Guidelines.)
Not all new parks succeed in becoming attractions, however. Urban spaces that don’t encourage desirable activities can lay empty or attract unwanted behavior. Too often there is an emphasis on slick materials and abstract forms, instead of making places that are human-scaled and have comfortable places to sit. In central Rotterdam, Schouwburgplein captures the interest of architects with lights mounted on metal cranes, but the plaza feels alien and uninhabited — in spite of the surrounding concentration of retail and other uses. Contrast this with perpetual human activity in New York City’s Bryant Park, which results from the use of movable seating, food concessions, tree canopy, and programmed activities.