The Slack Plaza Opportunity/Challenge

Posted: November 1, 2010 in Uncategorized
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In case you missed the headlines a few weeks ago, the city of Charleston (WV) has been selected as one of six state capitals to receive assistance from the EPA to design a “green” public space project.  Charleston’s project is Slack Plaza. 

What a great opportunity for the city.

Slack Plaza has struggled as a public space.  Many ideas have been kicked around and soon the city will have the benefit of professional designers and planners, as well as the EPA team, to help determine the optimum solution for Slack Plaza.

The EPA’s goal is to “help state capitals develop an implementable vision of distinctive, environmentally friendly neighborhoods that incorporate innovative green building and green infrastructure strategies.”   Sustainable design, in other words. (Learn more about the EPA program here.)

What a tremendous challenge for the city.

Some aspects – the innovative green building and green infrastructure strategies, for example – will be easier to achieve than others.  The technical stuff such as recycling rainwater, dealing with surface pollution, and so on, while not necessarily easy, will essentially be an engineering challenge.  Energy efficiency will be important and don’t be surprised if solar-powered lights are part of the plan.  Local products will be used, as well as recycled materials.  Trees and other vegetation will be selected for their low-maintenance characteristics.   There will no doubt be opportunities to develop public education programs so that we can all understand the importance of preserving our limited resources.

And it’s all good.

Another of the EPA’s stated goals is to “create and enhance interesting, distinctive neighborhoods that have multiple social, economic, and environmental benefits,” which is why this program is perfect for Slack Plaza.  It is known for its multiple social, economic and environmental characteristics.  While the potential exists to develop these characteristics into benefits, it will be no easy task.

It’s hard because it requires working with and understanding people.  Diverse people with diverse needs and desires.   Diverse people who demand different things from their public spaces.   Diverse people who may be challenged to share their world with others.

The key to developing a successful public space is recognizing the needs of people.  The key to developing a sustainable public space goes far beyond the technical green solutions.  By definition, a public space requires people.  There will be plenty of people at the ribbon cutting ceremony.  Will they be there a month later?  A year later?

After ten years, I hope the rain gardens and solar-powered lights are not the most talked about aspect of Slack Plaza.  I hope Slack Plaza becomes one of the great public spaces in the country.  If people go to Slack Plaza to eat a sandwich at noon, or take in a weekend art show, or meet friends for coffee on a warm summer evening, Charleston will have developed a public space that is truly sustainable.

What a great opportunity for the city.

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