10 Reasons Why Civic Space Park Doesn’t Work

Last week, I wrote a post on Schelling points, or nodes of unconscious coordination, where people spontaneous identify as important meeting points in a city. When I asked if Phoenixhad such a place, there was no consensus, but several people did name the potential of Civic Space Park to become one.  However, the park’s inability to draw larger crowds—other than when there are formally planned events—was also raised.

10 Reasons Why Civic Space Park Doesnt WorkThis got me thinking of why—despite being a great park on paper—Civic Space Park has yet to live up to its promise as a great urban space for downtown Phoenix. On the surface, the park is well designed for activity. It has a fountain for children and a café for teens and adults. It is easily accessible by public transit (both light rail and several buses), and is across the street from ASU downtown, the Westward Ho senior residences and several office buildings. It features, not one but three historic buildings (AE EnglandUS Post Office, and Metro Office Building), and boasts some impressive public art. It features public restrooms, shade structures and trees and bike racks. It provides movable seating that allows people to decide where they want to sit in the space.

While I mused that perhaps it is simply that Phoenicians prefer to hide behind block walls than interact in public spaces, other than at ‘official events’, upon greater reflection, this isn’t the case. Several other urban parks in central Phoenix are well used most of the year, notably Encanto (recently named one of America’s Best City Parks by Forbes) and Steele Indian School Parks, so if it isn’t the people, why other than the odd student and homeless person, is it dead 90% of the time?

Here are ten reasons that I came up with (with suggestions from Facebook and Twitter):

  1. The park is disconnected from its surrounding.  The light rail tracks landscaping and fencing act as a barriers for people to casually enter or exit that park.  This limits its popularity as an impromptu gathering place.
  2. There is little parking in the immediate vicinity. While this shouldn’t be a major issue, given its proximity to transit and well-populated buildings, etc, we are in Phoenix after all, where cars still dominate.
  3. It suffers from a malady common to several city parks: it is over landscaped. While there are a lot of places to sit, there are few open spaces to play.  Popular park pastimes, such as Frisbee, soccer, etc, are inhibited by the unnecessary berms, mounds and other extraneous design flourishes. While these may add visual interest, they inhibit the discourage play.
  4. The café, Fair Trade Civic Space, which never felt inviting, now has reduced its hours, The fact that it is hidden away in the ‘basement’ and is not visible from the street further limits its appeal and accessibility.
  5. The A.E. England Building, while a great restoration, it under-utilized, leaving one of the most prominent features vacant the majority of the time. (Perhaps the café and meeting spaces should have been flipped.) The Post Office has yet to be integrated into the park, and there are no plans to include the Metro Office Building)
  6. A heavy security presence. While there to deter homeless people, it also makes it feel uninviting for other users. Also the security is over zealous at times (i.e. telling people that they can’t WALK their bikes through the park)
  7. Lack of a playground for children. Other than the fountain, which is often turned off, there are few areas for kids to play. Further, given the lay out of the park, it is hard for parents to keep an eye on their children as the run around corners, etc. As well, dogs—another great park demographic—are not welcome.
  8. The grouping of the shade structures on the south side of the park, with little shade provided throughout the rest. The trees planted on the north side will take several years to mature (if they even make it; it looks like a few have already died.)
  9. It is hard to convene public gatherings. There are no publicly available large tables, or other amenities for medium to large groups of people.
  10. The name. Is there anything less inspiring than the bureaucratic ‘Civic Space Park’?  (I have a sneaking suspicion that this moniker is but a placeholder until it is named ‘Phil Gordon’ Park.

Do you have anything to add?  Want to come to the park’s defense?  Leave a comment.

This is day 8 in my 28 Day Blogging Challenge. 20 days to go.

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NOTE: There were several insightful comments on this post when it was first posted.  Alas, due to technical diffculaties, I lost a weeks worth of comment and have had to repost from archives, so I have cut and pastem them below:

10 Responses to “10 Reasons Why Civic Space Park Doesn’t Work”

  1. I’d love to use it more, but there just isn’t any reason to.

  2. I think your reasons are pretty spot on.

    Outside of tweaking some of what you mentioned, I guess it might take good programming to get people there and hopefully have them think of it as a place they can visit outside of special events.

    Also, I agree that the name is pretty uninviting. So, I will start calling it Jellyfish Park since it sounds silly and fun.

  3. You make some great points. Perhaps people choose to visit Encanto and Steele Indian school parkmore often due to:
    1) The incumbent advantage. Encanto & Steele park are long-standing public spaces. They are more well known. People know what to expect there.
    2) Habit & tradition. This ties in with #1. If a certain group holds a monthly meeting at Encanto or Steele park and they have for years, they’re not likely to change to a new park just because one popped up.
    3) Space. You mentioned this in your post and I think it’s a BIG one. Encanto and Steele parks just have much more open space to accommodate a broader range of activities and groups. And parkingspace, as you mentioned.
    4) Water/ponds. Civic space lacks this. Perhaps this is a draw for more people.

    I don’t live downtown, but even if I did, I don’t see any compelling reasons to choose Civic Spacepark as a meeting ground. I hear they’ve been doing live music shows there, which is something that would interest me, but your post isn’t about events, just meeting places.

  4. One of the problems with Civic Space Park is that it’s crammed between 1st Ave and Central, with both traffic and light rail running along its east and west sides. I think this connects it too much with the activity on the street and diminishes the relaxing park atmosphere which it should have. Good parks are respites from the hustle and bustle of urban life…they get people away from the street and provide an opportunity to play. Not only are there the issues you mentioned (overlandscaping and lack of a playground), but connecting the park to streets on two sides makes it seem less restful.

  5. I agree that the name is atrocious and hope that it is renamed sooner rather than later. (And I’d prefer it not be named after a person, but something more grand. The media referred to the Echelman sculpture as “Sky Bloom” and even though that’s not the actual title, I still think “Sky Bloom Park” sounds cool.)
    You makes some great points but I think the major obstacle is that there are just not enough people who live downtown. Without an established neighborhood what’s the point of neighborhood park?
    Overall I quite like it though. I’ve been to some fun and very crowded events there. But like most things in Phoenix, the park has a lot of potential that it hasn’t lived up to.

  6. andrewkfromaz says:

    I think it’s a well-designed park, and that they did well with the space they had to work with. A big part of what’s currently “wrong” with the park is external issues: the nearest residential buildings are mostly vacant, ASU’s campus is not yet built out, and so on. I think none of the flaws you mentioned (though I do think they are fairly accurate) are true deal-breakers. Once the surrounding areas come into their own and flourish, the park will bustle with activity.

    I am hugely disappointed w/ Fair Trade. If they’re not going to make any better use of the space than that, they need to close down and let someone in who will be more of a draw.

  7. Steve Weiss says:

    Issues with parking and the meeting hall nature of A.E. England are good points. I like the idea of Fair trade or some other biz being above-ground. Maybe A.E. England could have been that Phoenix Museum of the Arts or even shared studio artspaces the City once sought during the last bond selection process. This would have cost much less than the heavy adaption inside.

    The park was a gift to ASU to go along with their coming soon Student Union in the Post Office. It was built for this purpose, and to assuage the city residents for eliminating the center-of-the-city already built but woefully underfunded/poorly build and managed/never activated Patriot’s Park to make a mall with upscale bowling.

    The park is tiny. I’m not so much disappointed with the shade(give it time)or the landscaping, and it was incredibly smart to have Echelman’s sculpture not take up ground-space. I like the sustainible ideas of the park. It’s the only park in Phoenix that will always have green grass. I dig coming over to it at night and playing next to the color pillars or laying under the sculpture. After 8 pm you can park at any of the 3 metered parking spaces,for free. :-)

    A first read made me wince with your use of “it’s” when you should be using “its”…”it’s” is a contraction of “it is”…easy thing to learn, hard to ignore.

  8. Khamis says:

    Yuri I think you missed one major point. It doesn’t have to do with the design of the park, but it’s equal in importance. The lack of diverse uses around the park. Who lives within 1/2 mile. And the people that do live within 1/2 mile likely have closer (Roosevelt, the strange linear Portland Parkway) parks with some of the things you’re saying Civic Space lacks. The only people that use civic space are students more or less. There isn’t much use besides that going on around it, and until there is… (say redevelopment north of the Y along the west side of central) then I don’t see it becoming a huge success.

    But of course things like the visibility of FT need to improve. I wonder why the city hasn’t put a HUGE sign with an arrow, or maybe a super graphic on A.E. that points peds to the shops down there. They’re new, people aren’t going to suddenly know to go down, but they will… people go down random alleys in Seattle because there are signs that announce there are shops down them, also they’ve been around, but there are still signs. The A-frames aren’t cutting it.

    I also disagree with free parking being provided for what is suppose to be an urban park, in a pocketpark footprint. There are plenty of meters around the area.

  9. @J Seth Anderson: Sky Bloom Park sounds awesome!

  10. Yuri Artibise says:

    Thanks for all the great feedback and insights. I’ll remark on them later tonight when I have some time.

    (And Steve, thanks for the comments regarding ‘its/it’s’ It makes me wince too, They should be fixed now… A downside of writing at 2am is my editing is worse than normal.)

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Yuri Artibise

Yuri Artibise is an experienced policy analyst, community engagement practitioner and social media specialist. I have a Master of Public Administration degree with over 10 years of public policy research, analysis, and advocacy experience.

  • Donna

    Been too buy to comment. But here it goes…you probably missed all the meetings related to the design. The berms/walls were more extensive than now as a number of us fought to keep an open view through the park, etc. The “metro” building is actually the Phoenix Elementary School District #1 historic administration building. It is privately owned so you are correct that it will not be incorporated into the park. But at least it is saved. Some of the other plans with respect to the Post Office are less than stellar (in my opinion) and could evolve again. Who knows. The city has spent far too much time trying to appease ASU with the site forgetting/ignoring??? the fact that it is a city park and the historic buildings are important to many of us. Having events at the park (meetings, etc.) are great, but I know that many of my friends continue to struggle over where to park and how much is it going to cost. I just take public transportation and save the worry unless it is on a Saturday and/or Sunday evening when the last bus leaving from Central Station is at 7:58pm (so much for night life!). Seth's suggestion for a name is great. I've asked various parks people about something more interesting…typically if someone has the “money” they will consider changing it. So naming rights is the game.

  • Donna

    Been too buy to comment. But here it goes…you probably missed all the meetings related to the design. The berms/walls were more extensive than now as a number of us fought to keep an open view through the park, etc. The “metro” building is actually the Phoenix Elementary School District #1 historic administration building. It is privately owned so you are correct that it will not be incorporated into the park. But at least it is saved. Some of the other plans with respect to the Post Office are less than stellar (in my opinion) and could evolve again. Who knows. The city has spent far too much time trying to appease ASU with the site forgetting/ignoring??? the fact that it is a city park and the historic buildings are important to many of us. Having events at the park (meetings, etc.) are great, but I know that many of my friends continue to struggle over where to park and how much is it going to cost. I just take public transportation and save the worry unless it is on a Saturday and/or Sunday evening when the last bus leaving from Central Station is at 7:58pm (so much for night life!). Seth’s suggestion for a name is great. I’ve asked various parks people about something more interesting…typically if someone has the “money” they will consider changing it. So naming rights is the game.

  • Sean S

    Bringing in a couple of the points you made, the space is obviously not a suburban park, and is not designed to be a standalone urban park because of the landscaping and complexity of the design. Its design is built to be an intermingled urban park which means that it should be framed by pedestrian traffic which would then promote the usage we want to see there. Putting all those shops in the basement was stupid. Tear them out and put event space down there. Shops should be at street level. Some of our urban planners need to be shipped out. Let's look at Pioneer Square in Portland for what this could be, and what we need to do.

  • Sean S

    Bringing in a couple of the points you made, the space is obviously not a suburban park, and is not designed to be a standalone urban park because of the landscaping and complexity of the design. Its design is built to be an intermingled urban park which means that it should be framed by pedestrian traffic which would then promote the usage we want to see there. Putting all those shops in the basement was stupid. Tear them out and put event space down there. Shops should be at street level. Some of our urban planners need to be shipped out. Let’s look at Pioneer Square in Portland for what this could be, and what we need to do.

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  • Here are some ideas to help improve the appeal (and use) of Civic Space Park http://www.pps.org/civiccenterssolutions-2/

  • Here are some ideas to help improve the appeal (and use) of Civic Space Park http://www.pps.org/civiccenterssolutions-2/

  • Here are some ideas to help improve the appeal (and use) of Civic Space Park http://www.pps.org/civiccenterssolutions-2/

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