By Barry Watkins, 8/18/2014
Joni Mitchell in her song “Big Yellow Taxi” said it right, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Over the last 75 years or so in the US we have built places that are less and less friendly to humans, but a lot of people don’t realize what they’re missing because it’s been a gradual change over decades. One of the things we used to think was important when we built places was to leave some green space here and there. Leave the big tree intact in the village square. Leave some of the big oak trees when you build a home or a row of commercial buildings. Most old towns that you visit do have remnants of that value system.
It’s the same way with our idea of the prominence of public spaces like parks or plazas. During the decades following WWII in many places in the US we for some reason decided that public spaces were of less and less importance, so we set aside less and less land for them when we built things. Especially here in Brevard County since the 1960’s we built many miles and miles of suburban housing sometimes without a single park or plaza anywhere close by! I think we need to fix that.
Healthy communities need green spaces and public gathering places!
We’ve been talking about helping to transform Cocoa’s Diamond Square into a walkable place as a way of bringing new vitality to that area and improving the resident’s quality of life. One important thing we need to be considering in all of that is the role of public spaces. Quality public spaces in Diamond Square – greens, squares, parks, plazas, forecourts – will greatly enhance the quality of the experience when people want to walk or ride their bicycles there.
Great public spaces provide visual interest along the walking and biking route. They provide great destinations for leisure walking and for getting outdoors and exercising. They also serve as great gathering places and give residents places to socialize. The spaces around civic buildings like schools, churches, post offices and other government buildings, and libraries, can serve as public spaces. In our planning for walkability improvements for the Diamond Square village we need to put the proper priority on setting aside the needed land.
Who pays for it?
The cost of adding, improving, and maintaining public spaces can and should be a self-sustaining proposition and doesn’t have to be a drain on public resources. Well-designed public spaces will pay for themselves. If businesses and residences are allowed to be grouped around a square or a pocket park the increased value that the public space brings to those businesses and residences will be returned to the community through increased tax revenues! If this isn’t happening around public spaces then something is wrong. Healthy partnerships between business and government will bring about the desired results.
Prominent intersections are great locations for public spaces. When we increase walkability we can justify converting part of a parking lot, for instance, into a small plaza or square. Local governments, business owners, and neighborhood associations can join forces to make these kinds of improvements possible. Let’s look at doing this at some of the properties along the main thru-ways in Diamond Square! It will take some creative thinking, but let’s think of the positive long-term effects that can result!
The fountain in Orlando’s Thornton Park is a great example of the improvement of a public space that can vastly improve a neighborhood. Somebody had the brilliant idea of plopping a fountain in the middle of this intersection in Thornton Park as pictured above. A simple thing like this sets the stage for adding value to all of the properties around it! It has the effect of calming the traffic and contributes to and celebrates the unique character of this neighborhood. The same thing will hold true for adding and improving public spaces in Diamond Square. The key will be to do things that are in keeping with the local character and that contribute to their surroundings adding beauty and interest!