The N&R editorial board this morning made a thinly-veiled, vicious attack on me.
(Just kidding, Allen and Doug.)
But this morning's lead editorial was a rather oddly-worded attempted refutation of my earlier post about parks. I say "oddly-worded" because, even though their piece is obviously a point-by-point response to the arguments I made against a new park at Southside, the questions I raised are attributed to vaguely specified persons in the editorial: "Some wonder ...", "But won't these parks ...?" etc.
Narratological issues aside, I don't think the editors make a very compelling case for the Southside park, largely because they don't address the fundamental problem of park planning that Jane Jacobs discusses -- namely, how to create a dense and economically diverse neighborhood around the park. Nor do they take into account the current abundance of parks already in the area, and their closing argument is just a restatement of the fallacy that Parks are Good, supported only by a little Joni Mitchell nostalgia.
The south end of downtown, especially south of MLK Boulevard, is pretty sleepy, and few of the existing buildings there can accommodate much housing. A park there will do nothing to increase intensity of activity, which is the sine qua non of a good urban area.
The editors say the new park will be for "socializing," but you don't need a park to do that; Southside has good sidewalks, shops, and a nice square with a fountain that can easily accommodate that kind of informal activity. I visit that square frequently, but I've never seen anyone in it. If that little square is usually empty, what does that say about the need for a whole park?
I wonder, too, whether the N&R staff has actually looked at a map of the existing parks in that area. Here's one I made for their benefit:
All these parks (existing and proposed) are within a half-mile radius of Southside. Really now, how many parks do you need? And how much are they now used? Take a look at some photos I took of Douglas Park, just a few blocks from Southside, at lunchtime on a sunny, warm spring day.
It's a beautiful, empty park.
The N&R editors, along with the Piedmont Land Conservancy, also stress the need for green space in the center city, writing as if there isn't much of it. In fact, that was the rationale for establishing the now-under-construction park in the Ole Asheboro neighborhood, which is adjacent to Southside and downtown. Here are some photos I took of the area within one block of that new park.
Now, it's not pretty green space, but my point is that this area has way too much under-used land. This area needs buildings, economic activity, and people -- not more parks. (I note in passing that the new Ole Asheboro park does not seem to conform to the park planning principles in the city's Ole Asheboro Redevelopment Plan.)
The current push for new downtown parks is coming from well-meaning nature-lovers and suburbanites, who seem not to understand that central city, suburb, and country are, and should be, very different kinds of places. An abundance of green space and nature has never been a defining feature of successful urban spaces. Have a look at the urban landscape of Florence, Italy, one of the world's best cities:
Notice that the people in these pictures are not hanging out in the small amount of green space available. They are on sidewalks and in squares (which they share with cars, bikes, and scooters), and they are there because of the many cultural and commercial amenities that Florence offers.
The N&R editors write, "There's a lot more to a vibrant downtown than asphalt and brick." Absolutely. Vibrant downtowns have a critical mass of people whose activity and creativity conjure a rich culture that includes business, food, art, music, markets, drama, architecture, dance, festivals -- you name it. A good downtown is indeed a paved paradise. You don't need a park for any of it.
Putting another park at Southside is simply the dullest and least creative solution to the problem of what to do with an empty space in downtown Greensboro.