Thursday, November 8, 2007


Workwise, I've got several balls in the air at the moment... I've been writing an essay on teaching, starting the article on the Minneapolis anti-porn movement, shuffling all the etiquette material I collected in DC, and reading early twentieth century planning journals.

The latter is full of discussions of how to improve the "civic good" (as defined by a bunch of middle class white people) through changes to the built environment. Under discussion are things like trash cans, street lighting, rest rooms, playgrounds, and parks. They agonize in great detail over designs for each of these items. What is most sanitary? What will be most aesthetically pleasing? How will the design impact people's behavior? Because I am interested in the reforms pushed by and for women, most of the journals I am reading come from the "City Beautiful" camp of city planning (as opposed to the "City Efficient" movement). These reformers and planners firmly believed that a beautiful environment and one designed to meet the needs of the population (play spaces for children, for example) would convince people to act better toward their city and their fellow residents. "Good" planning as a means of alleviating social tensions was at the foundation of the field of urban planning -- whichever camp the planners were coming from -- and I suspect that basic concept has not changed much even down to today (though ideas on how to do it certainly have).

Today the powers-that-be in Ypsi are trying their hand democratizing the practice of planning. The city has at least one urban planner, has master plans for parks, and conceptual designs for the Huron River Corridor. But today, all of these are coming before the public in an effort generate ideas and suggestions for revamping two of the city's finest parks: Frog Island and Riverside. I've got to wonder how much of today's design charrette is going to be about Murph and other city officials managing the public's expectations. I'm anxious to see what my neighbors bring to the discussion -- if they come at all. Oh, I'm sure some of the usual suspects (Pierce, Maynard, Getto) will be there, but will the stroller-pushers, dog walkers, joggers, and bench loungers also come? I hope so. And then there is the part of me that wonders, for all I know about historical efforts to design, redesign, and use public spaces, particularly parks, will I (that'd be Prof. Smarty Pants to you) have anything of use to offer?

I do love these parks and use both of them regularly. So what is my wish list for these parks? I want them to remain fairly natural -- the biggest draw for my kids is that they can stand on the river's edge and throw sticks in the river and watch the current catch them (and they can do this for hours). I want them to continue to be festival friendly. For a tiny city, we have the best festivals around. Space should also be open for community group events that do not have the funds of a big festival. I want the parks to continue to function as a bike-friendly cut through from downtown to Depot Town and the Corner Brewery (though the upper path around Frog Island should be widened and better maintained). There should be a decent place to pee while one is there. It should be lit, but not in an obnoxious, light-polluting way. Friendly kid space back from the river bank would be swell -- so caregivers for small people can zone out in the sun without worrying that Suzy is going to go from slide to river in a blink of an eye. Signage should be better -- including a map of the park system. Pedestrian/bike entrance should be more inviting -- the end off Cross is all about the cars when it is open and when it is not... well, it still hides the park behind the drive/parking lot and people have to go through the parking lot to get to the tridge. There should be bike racks near every entrance. There should be non-stair ways into the park at every access point for bikes, strollers, and wheelchairs. Boat pull outs would be swell -- I'd love to kayak to the Heritage Festival! I'd like the dog runners to continue to be able to use some part of the parks for that -- it is nice group of folks who regularly turn out with their pups after work. I would also like the parks to be able function as a political space (place of public discourse, a physical location for the public sphere, if you will -- that last bit of language was just to thrill the Habermasians out there). If we can festival in the parks, we should be able to rally in them without having to negotiate a bunch of red tape with the city (I'm concerned that once more infrastructure goes into the park the city will make them harder to use for such purposes). Ooh, and how about some cool public art? All the better if it is useful art (like play structures or bike racks). Okay that is probably enough wants for now...

If'n you want to come out and participate, the charrettes are today (Thursday, Nov 8) from 3-5:30pm (this is the one I'm going to) and from 6-8:30pm at the Senior Center on Congress in Ypsilanti -- next to Rutherford Pool.

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