The Lone Arch

Back in the ’50s and ’60s, much of downtown Columbus fell to the wrecking ball in an orgy of “urban renewal.” Many of the old structures that were built around the turn of the century were torn down and replaced by skyscrapers–or, more likely, surface parking lots. By the time my family moved here in 1971, the Neil House, a hotel across from the Statehouse, and Union Station, shown in the photograph below, still remained, but their days were numbered. Both were torn down in the late ’70s.

I wish Union Station had survived. It was an example of Beaux Arts architecture, and featured an arched arcade for its entrance. The arcade, with its series of arches, could have been repurposed into shops and restaurants and brew pubs, but the city planners of that day didn’t really have that kind of foresight. It was easier to remove than preserve, so that it what they did. It makes you appreciate the surviving structures, like the Ohio Theater, the Atlas Building, the Wyandotte Building, and the older buildings on Gay Street and elsewhere in the core downtown area, that also could have been demolished.

All that remains of the colossal Union Station facade is the arch shown above, which stands, alone, at the entrance to a small park in the Arena District. It’s a silent reminder of what once was, and what could still have have been.

The View From Above

I’ve written frequently about how much I enjoy Schiller Park, the great neighborhood park in German Village that has been around since the 1860s and reminds me of the kinds of older, established parks you see in places like New York and Philadelphia.

I’ve walked around and through Schiller so many times I didn’t think anything about the park could surprise me, but then I saw this great overhead image of the park posted on Facebook by VividColumbus. To orient those who use the park, that white square in the circle at the bottom center of the photo is the statue of Herr Schiller.

The photo really gives you a sense of the geometric elements of the design of the park and a different perspective on how the different parts of the park, and its many pathways, fit together. I particularly like the overhead view of formal gardens, walkways, and lines of trees that lead up to the Schiller statue. It makes me think that the designers of the gardens keep an overhead view in mind when they arrange their plantings.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again — I wish more city planners and urban renewal designs included parks as essential elements of their projects. Parks like Schiller Park make a huge contribution to their surrounding communities.

More Fountains, Please

IMG_1110They’ve put a new fountain in at one of the entrances to the Columbus Commons.  It’s a nice fountain, with its lily pad look and bright green surrounding shrubbery.  But then, all fountains really are nice, aren’t they?  The burble of the water, the coolness of the air around them, the slight spray on your face, the gleam of the shimmering water on a sunny day — these are the things that make fountains a great addition to any metropolitan area.

If I were in charge of city planning, I’d make sure that a chunk of development money was dedicated to building more fountains.

The Base Of The Sixth Street Bridge

IMG_5267Kish and I had a beautiful afternoon in which to walk around downtown Pittsburgh yesterday.  We crossed one bridge to get to the Point, where the Ohio River begins, and then strolled around downtown before crossing the colorful Sixth Street bridge to return to the other side.

You can’t draw too many deep conclusions from one short walk, but in one area, at least, Pittsburgh clearly has succeeded where other cities have failed.  Here, the riverfront is fully integrated into the city.  It’s easy to get to the waterfront on both sides of the river, and once you’re there you find beautiful and wide walking paths and biking areas.  There are great walkways on the bridges, too.

In many cities, it’s almost impossible to get down to the water.  That’s just bad planning.  Many people are drawn to the water and consider it an asset.  Pittsburgh has capitalized on that asset, and yesterday there were lots of bikers, joggers, dog walkers, and visitors like us that were happy about that.

Planning For Parkland

The Columbus Downtown Development Corp. is hoping to create more parkland in the downtown area.  If it happens, it will be a good thing.

The plan is to put the parkland in the area around COSI and where the Veterans Memorial Auditorium now stands.  Vets is supposed to be torn down and replaced by an amphitheater and a different kind of veterans center.  At the same time, the damming on the Scioto River as it sluggishly moves through downtown is to be changed to allow the river to return to its more natural, narrower, more swiftly flowing state.  The narrowing will create an opportunity for additional parkland.  And, a third part of the plan — a 50,000-foot “indoor adventure” structure operated by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium — will be built just south of COSI.

It’s an ambitious plan, and, in Columbus, ambitious plans often are greeted with skepticism.  The urban landscape is dotted with plan and concepts that have never become reality, and Columbus is no exception.  When a planner says their vision is of Columbus’ version of Central Park — which is a bit of an overstatement in any event — the question of whether the project will get off the ground becomes even more compelling.

Still, the idea of more parkland is a good one.  The future of downtown Columbus is as a residential area, not an industrial center. People like parks and playgrounds in their neighborhoods, and urban dwellers also like things to do within walking distance.  That means parks, theaters, restaurants, bars, and other potential entertainment venues.  A plan that provides parks, an amphitheater, and a downtown aquarium fits those needs.  Putting those sites on the west side of the river in the Franklinton area also makes sense.  In Columbus, as in other cities, the river is a real dividing line, and most downtown workers don’t venture over the bridges.  That needs to stop, and putting some real attractions in Franklinton will help.

Columbus is changing, and most of the changes are for the better.  Adding green space that makes downtown living more attractive will accelerate the positive trend.

On The River Walk

IMG_4118When you ask most people about San Antonio, they’ll probably mention the Alamo and the River Walk.  (The NBA fans among us would probably also mention the San Antonio Spurs, who fell just short this year in their bid for another NBA championship.)

I was one of those people who’d heard of the River Walk.  I figured it was something that was created in the ’60s or ’70s as one of those grand urban renewal projects, but the reality is much more interesting.  The River Walk in its modern form actually dates back to the 1930s, and as you walk along you will occasionally see signs about areas that were built by New Deal agencies like the Works Progress Administration.  There have been many other additions and modifications over the years.

IMG_4064The River Walk obviously has been a great positive for San Antonio from an economic standpoint.  It’s a tourist attraction and is one of the reasons why San Antonio draws lots of convention traffic.  Many restaurants, bars, and shops are found there.  A number of people are employed as tourist boat operators, or landscapers, or in other jobs related to the River Walk.  It’s home to a number of sidewalk vendors selling their wares.

There’s lots to like about the River Walk.  In many American cities, planners seemed oddly eager to close off access to the rivers or lakes that caused the city to be founded in the first place.  If residents wanted to take a stroll by the river, they had to try to cross multiple highways or the parking lots of sports stadiums, and if they got to the water they found desolate, underdeveloped areas.  San Antonio, in contrast, embraced its river.  The wise city fathers here understood that people like walking by water and hearing the quack of a duck.  Now other waterfront cities are scrambling to catch up and correct city design mistakes that should never have been made in the first place.

IMG_4133There are other nice aspects of the San Antonio River Walk, too.  It’s a place full of unique vistas.  Some areas are home to towering trees and welcome shade, others have a distinct Spanish feel.  There’s a lovely riverfront theater, with seats built into the hillside on one side of the river and the stage on the other.  The bridges spanning the river walk and the stairways leading up and down aren’t uniform, either, which adds to the charm.  And even on the hottest San Antonio summer day, it’s cooler down by the river.

During our visit here, we’ve walked on the River Walk every day, and it’s been crowded.  Richard says that San Antonio residents tend not to use it much because of the tourist crowds.  I can understand that, I suppose, but I applaud any urban plan that has “Walk” in it.  I have to believe that some people use the River Walk to get to work, and that the River Walk makes the downtown workers in San Antonio much more likely to walk somewhere for lunch than is the case in other cities.   In an era of too many red-faced, flabby Americans, any urban planning that also encourages walking and fitness is a good thing.IMG_4059