Thoughts on the Project for Public Spaces Presentation October 3, 2011

The planning commission was scheduled to meet at the same time as the Project for Public Spaces. I ranted about that in my summary of the planning commission meeting. I was able to attend half of each meeting.

I’ll use a bullet point format for my thoughts given that I am not able to have a complete picture the event, and I hope you’ll offer your own comments if you attended and especially if you were able enjoy the entire presentation.

“I was at the warm and fuzzy meeting in our beautiful Washington Center for the Performing Arts.  I left after an hour, when I realized that the single, most pervasive problem downtown would not and could not be addressed by the globe-trotting, New York presenter and our City leaders (?).  Until the bums on 4th Ave are shuffled along, downtown presents an obstacle insurmountable to genteel patrons.”

  • The use of William H. Whyte was inspirational.
  • I didn’t see a single case study in the presentation arising from a city close to the population size of Olympia. I’m not interested in examples drawn from London, New York, Paris, or hell, even Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. (I think most people with a nerve ending at the top of their neck could placemake in an affluent city of five million people.) Those are not appropriate examples for comparison to Olympia’s urbanism which remains up to the present an abstract and perhaps even undesirable concept. (See e.g. “small town feel.”)
  • The Power of 10 seemed to be the thrust of placemaking. Ten destinations, ten uses, layered upon and with 10 users in any given location, for example Sylvester Park, the well, waterfront, or Percival Landing. If you expand the uses, users, and places for each, you’ll begin to develop spaces that cascade into successful neighborhoods or cities.
  • Mr. Kent’s best line of the portion of the meeting I attended was about parking—solve the problem by making parking harder to come by. I’ve long thought that, but I also realize that people in Olympia are not yet ready to give up their cars. This will continue to be a huge issue, for perhaps the remainder of my life here.
  • When asked to speak on what those who attended a five hour training session that occurred earlier in the day (and included city staff, elected officials, business owners, and other community members) learned, none of them were able to tell us anything beyond somewhat abstract platitudes. It sounds as though there will be a regular meeting schedule for this group of “zealous nuts” (their words), but at this point, I’m not sure what will come out of it. I am highly skeptical of the efficacy of another meeting, let alone one that is supposed to become regular.
  • Mr. Kent bore a resemblance to Peter Stroble—except that unlike Peter, his affectations included a quickly uttered “sortuv” as alliterative filler. I like that more than “uuhhh” and “like” from which I personally suffer, but on the other hand “sortuv” does have an off-putting air of eastern elite pretension that grinds against my pacific northwestern soul.

I was very excited for PPS’s presentation—their website is exceptional and I’ve really enjoyed many of their publications. I left—half way through mind you—underwhelmed, but perhaps I simply wasn’t able to see the part where Mr. Kent showed us how to create the Olympia we’ve all been dreaming about. So please tell me, what did I miss?

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