Saturday, May 24, 2008

My Opinion on Park Central Square and Other Current Issues

It's a rainy, Saturday morning. There's a robin out in the yard, soaking wet, no doubt finding plenty of worms washed up by the rain. The thunder is getting more and more distant and my day is just beginning. In fact, I've only drank half of my first cup of coffee (heh, this was two hours ago, now).

I've checked out the News-Leader already. I read the story about Randy D. Sloan's nudity and how his Attorney defends (the) case('s) dismissal. This hasn't been a story I had been following very closely. Beyond listening to Vincent David Jericho's Podcast of his interview with Greene County Prosecutor Darrell Moore, and sharing a few emails with a fellow blogger friend about it. I think my blogger friend is probably right in his thinking there is more to the story than the original knee-jerk reaction. In cases like this I prefer to see what the courts decide, but certainly there's no denying that a man should not be nude on his front porch around school children, any school children, elementary or otherwise, in fact, a man just shouldn't be nude on his front porch at all.

I noticed that Ron Paul supporters were characterized as cult followers in the leed of another story:

"Ron Paul, the Texas Republican with a cult-like following, will be in Branson on Friday for a 7 p.m. "freedom rally" at the Tri-Lakes Center, according to the schedule on his campaign Web site."


Some Ron Paul supporters may be cult-like in their following of Paul, just as some Obama supporters seem to be cult-like in their following of Obama, but those who don't follow Paul in a cult-like trance will probably be greatly offended by such a blanket statement. I know a few Paul supporters, and no, I'm not among their number, who will feel mischaracterized by that leed, and rightfully so.

The first story I read this morning, however, was Focus now on square perimeter. It was a fair story, not all of the stories and information about the square have been balanced, offering both sides of the issue. There has been an agenda.

At any rate, after writing my own story regarding the provenance of Park Central Square, Square Sinks into Controversy, for the May 7 issue of CFP Midweek, in which I simply tried to present a balanced article on the issue, and, since I have been following this issue closely,I decided it's an appropriate time to share my opinion, if anyone is interested in reading about it.

The first time I saw Butler Rosenbury & Partners proposed design plan for renovations on Park Central Square was at a City Council luncheon, held at Springfield/Branson National Airport. At the time I thought some of the ideas were very nice but my own concerns were addressed by Councilwoman Cindy Rushefsky's query about whether the $1 million promised to be spent on the square renovation would cover all the costs of the many beautiful features Tim Rosenbury had presented. The answer was no, but Rosenbury assured the Council he wouldn't bring something to Council for approval without fleshing out some ideas on how it could be financed and it could be done in phases. So, okay.

Later, I don't even remember the date, Rosenbury showed his presentation at another Council luncheon, you'll find that presentation here. I thought it was great, I really liked it.

Mrs. Ruth Kelley addressed the Council the day Rosenbury presented the final proposed design, at that luncheon. It was shortly after her letter appeared in the News-Leader, (since gone to archive at the News-Leader website, but can still be read here, at The Cultural Landscape Foundation's website).

While I really liked Ruth Kelley's letter, and had even made it a recommended reading at this blog, at that time I was of a mind that if the city just saved Halprin's fountain that would be enough.

Really, at that point, I didn't care that much and thought it was a good idea to renovate the square, I did like the existing square and thought it could have been restored using less money, but I was willing to go along. After all, it was part of the Heer's agreement with McGowan, so it's not like citizens had any choice about whether the money was going to be spent or not and Rosenbury touted there'd been over 750 people to weigh in on the design criteria, on what they'd like to see happen with the square.

By the time the special council meeting was called and the Council approved the design concept I had a little better understanding of who Lawrence Halprin was and I had begun to start having misgivings about the wisdom of paving over (how else would the city level the existing sunken plaza?) Halprin's work. I was thinking, "this could be a great boon to Springfield, this could put us on the map, think of the eclectic, artsy types who might plan their vacations around famous landscape sites, think of how Springfield could promote this! Doesn't Springfield like to think of itself as an artist's mecca? Don't we have First Friday Artwalk Events?"

Yes, I had begun to become a Lawrence Halprin fan and I was also becoming very concerned that the rest of Springfield's citizenry hadn't been properly educated on the provenance of the square and without proper education on what we have, how could an educated decision be made about what we want?

At the February 12, special called, Tuesday morning Council meeting, where the majority of Council approved Rosenbury's design, my opinion is that there was a rush to approve the proposal. I'm not sure how anyone could argue otherwise. The Council's discussion of an email received from Kevin McGowan of Blue Urban, the developer of the Heer's Tower, indicated McGowan was putting some pressure on Council and the Council was very mindful of the August 1 deadline the City had agreed to under contract with McGowan. The contract gave McGowan the option of forcing the city to buy back the Heer's Tower if construction on renovation of the square wasn't begun by that August 1 deadline.

I've silently noted that there are some who would like to characterize those concerned about the provenance of the square as being "obstructionists" against what the majority of Springfieldians want downtown but believing the citizens of Springfield weren't properly apprised of the provenance of that square and the status of Lawrence Halprin's designs while considering what they wanted on the square, I believe that is an unfair characterization. I also noted that someone cast a bit of aspersion on my identification of Partner for Public Spaces as BRP's programming "partner" at another blog, enclosing "partner" in quotation marks, but, for the sake of clarification on that matter, I got that identifier straight out of the mouth of Tim Rosenbury, himself, so I felt very comfortable in using it. That was how Rosenbury described Partner for Public Spaces at the special February 12 Council meeting.

Now, the question in my mind is how could anyone not be exited and thrilled that our public square, Park Central Square, was designed by a famous landscape architect, a world renowned landscape architect!? How can this be considered a bad thing, an awful development!? Why wouldn't ALL of Springfield celebrate such a thing? It makes no sense to me.

I'm ecstatic, yes, I'm celebrating the fact that Lawrence Halprin designed our square and that it has been deemed eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Now all of Springfield knows it. Now real discussions can begin on how to preserve the wonderful asset Springfield has! This is a good thing, how can it be a bad thing? I would also think that every business owner downtown, including Kevin McGowan, would be ecstatic over this wonderful, fantastic news!

Stuart Soloman began the discussion in the May 21 issue of Community Free Press. Be sure and catch his column, "Looking Back to Move Forward," page 7.

Let's look back at what we have, what was planned by Halprin and not implemented, what was lost over the years of the original design (for instance, originally there were stone benches in the park instead of the ugly multiple coated green ones there now, where are those stone benches today?) and then lets move forward and celebrate this fantastic news. We all want what is best for Springfield. It wasn't in the best interest of Springfield to let Park Central Square run down, what about using some money to maintain what we have instead of building things only to let them deteriorate and run down and then bulldoze them under and start over? That would be a good discussion topic for another blog.

Note: I also meant to include another opinion: I, personally, believe Butler Rosenbury & Partners made every effort to point out to the city of Springfield that Lawrence Halprin was a landscape architect of note. The design firm even showed a film spotlighting another Halprin designed park in Oregon. According to Tim Rosenbury, there just wasn't much interest in the provenance of the square on the part of the city.

I had a lovely discussion with Tim Rosenbury back in February and found him to be very forthcoming, honest and direct in responding to my questions and wouldn't want anyone to get the impression that I feel he played a role in dismissing Halprin's relevance. BRP was contracted by the city to offer a design proposal on Park Central Square and, after informing the city of the potential relevance of Halprin's design, he concluded the city had little interest in it and so, he did his job. The design firm of Butler Rosenbury & Partners presented what the city of Springfield had contracted them to present and their firm simply tried their best to please their client.

8 comments:

tom said...

the only part that I differ from you is that most Springfieldians don't care, nor would they if properly educated either, about the square or what city council spends the millions of dollars in revenue on.
It is but a small minority on any issue which creates an uproar, the problem that everyone seems to forget is when you want federal money to be involved in any project you better be prepared for federal group involvement.
Someone on council or someone in the city leadership decided the federal funds were going to come with NO strings attached and we know this just doesn't happen.

Jacke M. said...

Tom, I really don't think there's a true disagreement between us.

I don't think Park Central Square is even on the radar screen for most people in Springfield but there were over 750 people who weighed in on the public input process and Butler Rosenbury & Partners did facilitate some input from focus groups through their programming partner, Partner for Public Spaces.

So, yes, you are correct, there's a small minority of the population with involved interest. I don't think 750 people out of the total population of Springfield could or would be considered a majority by anybody's measure.

I'm not willing, however, to jump to a conclusion that "someone in the city leadership decided the federal funds were going to come with NO strings attached," but it seems pretty clear city leadership didn't feel the provenance of the square was an issue worth much consideration. I began to disagree with them on that point as I learned more about it. It was an evolution, really, on my part.

The way our government, on any level, is used to doing business, we're a long way from them giving up what they consider to be free money, translate tax payers dollars.

I think our local government believes if money comes in the form of a grant from the state or federal government the citizens of Springfield should take that to mean they aren't having to pay for it.

tom said...

Jacke,

I have been to one of these public opinion type events for the Jordan Valley Gateway Project and most in attendance worked for the city or the design firm that was trying to get suggestions.

I don't believe for a second that 750 every day common citizens of Springfield attended the public input process of this decision making process. Call me cynical but it is my belief that less than 20 to 50 people attended this that weren't affiliated with this firm or the city the rest were asked to attend to inflate the numbers to make it sound as if there was public input.

After attending a few of these public input meetings I'm now very concerned that the numbers reported aren't really what they appear to be.

Jacke M. said...

Tom, I did do some research some time ago into who made up the numbers in that 750, however, I was not given the list of names of those who had weighed in through the focus groups, though I requested those lists at that time. I didn't want the list of names of those who participated in the focus groups, facilitated by Butler Rosenbury & Partners programming partner, in order to publish them, and made that plain. The reason I wanted the lists of names of those who attended was to see if some of the people in each of the focus groups were duplicated in more than one of the focus groups.

If I recollect my past research correctly, I believe I concluded, based on information I received, that Rusty Worley was likely the one who originally came up with the number 750, which was then picked up by Tim Rosenbury and Mayor Pro Tem Gary Deaver as they were discussing the BRP design concept for Park Central Square.

I have no doubt Worley received public input on the square aside from those focus groups, just as the News-Leader generated comments regarding what people would like to see on the square when there were articles and/or columns written about it on their online site.

What I see as the root of the problem, is that without either the city or the design firm of BRP (who had no responsibility other than to follow the scope of work the city gave them and please their client) educating those who weighed in about the possible significance of the architect of the square and it's history PRIOR to the public input process, the public input process couldn't be of much value. In this entry I tried to convey that by writing:

"I was also becoming very concerned that the rest of Springfield's citizenry hadn't been properly educated on the provenance of the square and without proper education on what we have, how could an educated decision be made about what we want?"

You know, I'm just bantering my opinion here, Tom, but I believe the city had a responsibility to make those involved in the public input process aware of the potential significance of Lawrence Halprin's involvement in the design of our square more keenly aware of it, their own, apparent, lack of interest in the square's provenance shouldn't have kept them from strenuously pointing out it's potential to be considered a landmark. That is the sort of information the public should have been educated about and that is the sort of information sharing that, in the end, makes public input valuable.

In my opinion, without full disclosure of all the facts and all the potential variables, public input isn't of much value.

The city didn't appear to take the provenance seriously and so they didn't give the public much of a chance to take it seriously either.

The fact of the matter is, we can't know if it would have made any difference in the public input process because that aspect of the discussion wasn't impressed upon those involved.

Now, the city could say they didn't realize the importance of the square's provenance until an opinion was issued making it eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places but they DID know of the potential significance of Halprin's involvement, (remember, BRP informed them of it early in the process) and it's just my opinion that they should have made the public more keenly aware of that instead of, seemingly, trying their best to prove otherwise after historic preservation organizations showed an interest.

Further, historic preservation organizations shouldn't be made out to be the "bad guys" because they did their jobs, in this case, of trying to preserve important national landmarks. They do good work and I'm glad they are out there advocating for potential landmark/historic sites.

Busplunge said...

Good Work Jackehammer!

Now giddyup Rocinante!

I fear that no matter what we pesky bloggers write, "The City" is going to do what they are going to do. After all, staff recommends approval!

Anonymous said...

As a common citizen
in Sprinfield,
are we even allowed to have an opinion?

Chestnut Expressway

tom said...

Anon,

NO !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Cameron said...

As someone who attended a few of the early public meeting I can tell you that they was more then "20 to 50" everyday common citizens at all of those meetings. In fact at the first on I would say it would have been more in the area of 100 people. Keep in mind that this was not a short stop in and speak your mind for a minute but a 3 to 4 hour sit down meeting as well as a good 1/2 hour out on the square.
When you think of how many meetings they had, 750 doesn't sould to unreasonable.

As for understanding who Lawrence Halprin was and why we should care, that was very clear to me from the start and I would say others in the same meetings would say that as well. Both BRP and People for Public Spaces made that clear. the simple fact is that the ideas the the members of these focus groups had just did not work with the current design hints the change.