Archive for December, 2011

Concept plan for Slack Plaza developed by Origin4Design.

In the past, I’ve used Charleston’s Slack Plaza to illustrate some of the challenges facing public spaces.  If the concepts developed recently by the Pittsburgh design firm, Origin4Design (O4D), are ever implemented, I won’t have Slack Plaza to kick around anymore.

As part of the EPA’s Greening America’s Capitals initiatives, O4D was charged with developing a plan to revitalize Slack Plaza and adjacent areas using sustainable design principles.  One of my concerns with the program was that it might focus too much on green building techniques and not enough on creating spaces that people might actually use.  Origin4Design did as well as anybody could have done in addressing both issues.

One of the challenges with plazas is that they are great when there are lots of people, but lose their sense of scale and intimacy when the crowds dwindle.  In the O4D design, while there is plenty of room to accommodate larger crowds, there are also smaller pocket spaces, along with abundant seating opportunities, both of which are essential for a place to become social.

O4D also addressed one of the more critical issues of Slack Plaza, that of people just passing through.  As a link from traditional downtown Charleston to the Charleston Town Center, Slack Plaza is an important pedestrian link.  The current plaza forces pedestrians to walk a gauntlet that can sometimes be scary, as they are funneled through a narrow passageway between planter walls and the old fountain.   Violations of personal and public space rules make the walk very uncomfortable.  The O4D plan provides ample public space for those just passing through, which by itself is a critical improvement.

The basic functional changes are spun in a tapestry of creative thought.  Edges have the same freehand flow that was born on charrette tracing paper.  Pavement designs are spirited and fanciful.  Lighting is not restricted to poles with box fixtures, but reflect an atmosphere of fun that is apparent throughout the O4D design.

The final design of Slack Plaza is as organic and free-flowing as the concept sketches.

Because the EPA only funded the concept development, there is currently no money to actually implement the design.  Hopefully, we’ll see some movement on the project before the dust accumulates on the bound copies.  At any rate, the Origin4Design is a good start.  Good job, guys.

Images provided by Orgin4Desgin.  You can see the entire Slack Plaza report at the EPA website.

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Value the customer.

Posted: December 4, 2011 in Uncategorized
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A restaurant owner wants to compete with the new bistro that just opened down the street.  She decides that a makeover is in order.  She works with a consultant who advises her on the optimum seating arrangement, the tables and chairs, lighting, even the carpet – all to help the restaurant run more efficiently and enhance the diners’ experience.

We need to think the same way in developing public spaces.  Are we enhancing the customers’ experience?

The customers are the residents of your city.  The visitors to your city.  The businesses, too, are customers.

Too often I see good ideas for public spaces poorly executed.  “We need a place for people to sit,” I can imagine a civic leader saying.  So he opens the catalog and picks out an institutional bench that will withstand even the most determined vandal.  Next, he will meet with another staffer and walk along the sidewalk and with little consideration of how people behave or the patterns of sun and shade or opportunities for social interaction, they will pick locations for the benches.  Then benches are cast in concrete where they will remain, for better or for worse, until the next good idea comes along.

Stores and restaurants go to great lengths to make sure customers enjoy their experience.  They value their customers.

Cities should value their customers even more.  They should take their good ideas seriously and get the help they need to make sure they are executed properly.  Before everything is cast in concrete.