In his remarks that prefaced the January 6th design presentation on McEuen Park, Coeur d’Alene Parks Director Doug Eastwood declared the city’s intent to make McEuen a “placemaking park for Coeur d’Alene.” His use of the term “placemaking” is significant, and it helps to understand the reasoning behind some of the design choices proposed by Team McEuen.
Those in attendance at the overflow meeting saw an impressive presentation of how the venerable downtown park could be transformed. The current park’s boat launch, baseball fields, and parking lot would be eliminated and replaced by a plaza, gardens, water features, and a range of new amenities. The new design was eye-opening, if perhaps over-ambitious. The placemaking goal, however, was front-and-center.
In truth, “placemaking” is a word somewhere between jargon and an actual term of art. But like the term “sustainability,” while the definition can be a bit vague, a general direction is usually clear. Placemaking is a term used by planners and architects for more holistic, integrated designs of space. Rather than building just buildings, or engineering only highways, or constructing look-alike subdivisions, modern designers now include parks, complete streets, landscapes and greenspaces to create a more integrated whole.
Placemaking looks beyond just the engineering of specific uses and structures, but also looks to social factors, physical and visual linkages, and values such as safety and comfort and image, which are not necessarily tied to a specific land use. Placemaking recognizes that parks, public squares, streetscapes, and waterfronts can be more valuable than merely their collection of uses. A park, for example, is more than just somewhere where recreation occurs.
Urban public parks are increasingly the laboratory for placemaking. Millennium Park in Chicago and Discovery Green Park in Houston are recent examples of successful park designs that are attracting visitors and reinvestment that would not have occurred otherwise.
The placemaking approach was evident in the proposed design for McEuen Park. The current conglomeration of disparate single uses – boating, baseball, parking – would be replaced by a much wider range of integrated potential uses, both active and passive, that would make the park a much more welcoming and comfortable place for a much wider variety of visitors. But very importantly, the McEuen design provides much greater visual and physical connectivity to the Lake, which is central to the very identity of Coeur d’Alene.
Although we have serious concerns with the proposal’s approach to parking, and we have serious concerns with the proposal’s approach to Tubbs Hill, we are in general agreement that McEuen Park is a location with great potential, and that placemaking is an appropriate design approach for this important location.
The fact than nearly 600 people turned out on a cold January night to consider plans for a city park, shows the value to the community. The details are extremely important, and costs are very much a concern, but the opportunity should not be lost to the nattering of naysayers and defenders of the status quo.
Coeur d’Alene has a unique opportunity to create park that will not only enhance the value of park property as a park, but that also makes it clear why this place, Coeur d’Alene, is such a special place to be.
This article is adapted from one published in our quarterly newsletter. Join KEA for a subscription.