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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.

 

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Those in attendance at an overflow meeting January 6th saw an impressive presentation of how the venerable McEuen Park in downtown Coeur d’Alene could be transformed. Under preliminary plans, 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.

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 an extraordinary location with truly great potential, and we do think a world class design should go in this important location.

Join us at the January 20th KEA Noon Meeting at the Iron Horse Restaurant in downtown Coeur d’Alene, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm.  Doug Eastwood, Parks Director for the City of Coeur d’Alene, and other McEuen Park Steering Committee members will present on the proposed plans for this park.

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 this opportunity should not be lost to the nattering of naysayers and defenders of the status quo.

The City has asked for public comment, and they are getting boat loads of it.  Make sure your voice is among those it will consider. A simple and easy survey is on the Team McEuen website – click over there and give your opinions.

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So, the grand plans for McEuen Park will be rolled out to the public at a meeting at North Idaho College Thursday evening (Student Union Building, Coeur d’Alene Room, 6pm). We will be acutely interested to see how the plans will be received.

The controversial proposal eliminates most of the surface parking area and boat launch, eliminates the ball fields, and may be expensive to build and maintain. But the proposal has some striking design features and makes the park much more functional and user-friendly. Indeed, based on our preliminary review of sketches on Team McEuen’s website, there’s much to like, there’s much that could be better, and there’s a lot to be to be concerned about too.

For example, on the one hand, we are quite glad to see the proposal largely eliminates the ugly and wasteful surface parking lot. On the other hand, the replacement underground parking seems to be significantly over-supplied and it will be expensive to implement. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and better for both the park and downtown businesses to relocate the lost parking into some of the other vacant land around downtown? Wouldn’t that create more opportunities for redevelopment and foot-traffic in downtown?

We are also very concerned with the impacts on Tubbs Hill. There are a number of features that encroach upon the natural integrity of Coeur d’Alene’s significant and fiercely-protected natural landmark. Although we agree that McEuen Park could use a serious facelift, Tubbs Hill needs no enhancement and should be left alone. Rather than the design team attempting to accommodate the Park by expanding features into Tubbs Hill, we think Tubbs Hill’s clear natural boundaries should be accommodated by the Park’s design.

At the moment, we’re mostly agnostic about the boat ramp and the ball fields. One of the guiding principles of the design, supposedly, is that any amenities removed from McEuen will be relocated elsewhere to be at least as good or better. We’re open to what they will suggest. And we’re agnostic as to some of the more elaborate design flourishes. We think much will depend on how much the new park will cost to build and maintain. The burden of persuasion clearly belongs to Team McEuen, but we are hoping to be persuaded.

With a lot of people with a lot of interest in a lot of topics related to the re-design, Team McEuen will be challenged to provide for public input opportunities that the public will demand. The web page is nice, and the facebook page is engaging, but some formalized process, we think, will be necessary. We’d also like to see some supporting narrative accompanying the proposal, and some images large enough to more fully understand the details.

At this point, we look forward to the discussion. See you there Thursday night?

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We’re having a great deal of fun today in Coeur d’Alene. It’s our first-ever PARK(ing) Day. Thank you to our volunteers, our suppliers, our sponsors, our contributors, our artists. And a secret special thank you goes to the City of Coeur d’Alene for being such a good sport about it. We’re posting pictures all day over at the facebook page.

PARK(ing) Day at Art Spirit Gallery - photo by KEA BlackberryCam

But what exactly is the point of all this? Basically, that inexpensive parking is not really all that inexpensive. There are significant costs throughout our car culture, but today we focus particularly on costs associated with our insistence on being able to park our cars wherever we want.

From a purely environmental perspective, vast expanses of asphalt are problematic for a number of reasons, but most critically problematic because of stormwater runoff. Rather than water slowly infiltrating back into the soils, stormwater runs off into our streams and rivers and lakes, quickly, warmly, and filled with pollutants.

Artificially inexpensive parking is indirectly problematic because it encourages us to use our cars in ways that are inefficient and unnecessary. We’ll drive further and more often because the leapfrog of parking lots makes walking less efficient, and because even well-designed mass transit can’t compete.

PARK(ing) Day at Java on Sherman - photo by KEA BlackberryCam

But collectively we’re wasting a lot of money. Bottom line numbers from the well-researched book “The High Cost of Free Parking” indicate that the “free parking subsidy” cost Americans a collective $127 billion in 2002.  Most free parking spaces have land values worth far more than the cars parked on them.  In Coeur d’Alene, this is particularly acute along the valuable lakefront.

Not everyone is onboard. When one of our PARK(ing) Day locations was setting up this morning, a detractor driving a huge truck commented, “I own a business down here, where am I supposed to park?” just before pulling out of his free on-street parking spot. Notwithstanding a business model that has the owner taking up his customers’ parking, this is a frequent complaint among those accustomed to the parking subsidy.

What we’re saying today is that we need to rethink our parking. And we’re pleased to be part of a global effort to do so.

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As someone who had to pay more than $20 to park a car for a day in downtown Baltimore, I walked to work. North Idaho, however, is at the exact opposite end of the parking spectrum with acres and acres of inexpensive parking.

In some instances, parking is located on extremely valuable land. Visitors come from around the country and around the world to enjoy the natural beauty of our area, but there’s a huge expanse of parking separating the City of Coeur d’Alene’s downtown core from its namesake Lake. At Independence Point, what would otherwise be a world-class gateway to the City, visitors are treated to yet another parking lot.

So this Friday in Coeur d’Alene, KEA is joining with artists, activists and citizens around the globe will temporarily transform parking spaces into public parks and other social spaces, as part of an annual event called PARK(ing) Day.” In a press release, the PARK(ing) Day founders describe it:

Originally invented in 2005 by Rebar, a San Francisco-based art and design studio, PARK(ing) Day challenges people to rethink the way streets are used and reinforces the need for broad-based changes to urban infrastructure. “In urban centers around the world, inexpensive curbside parking results in increased traffic, wasted fuel and more pollution,” says Rebar’s Matthew Passmore. “The strategies that generated these conditions are not sustainable, nor do they promote a healthy, vibrant human habitat. PARK(ing) Day is about re-imagining the possibilities of the urban landscape.”

Since 2005, the PARK(ing) Day project has blossomed into a worldwide grassroots movement: PARK(ing) Day 2009 included more than 700 installations in more than 140 cities in 21 countries on six continents. This year, the project continues to expand to urban centers across the globe, including the first-ever PARK installation in Tehran, Iran. “Urban inhabitants worldwide recognize the need for new approaches to making the urban landscape,” says Rebar’s John Bela. “PARK(ing) Day demonstrates that even temporary or interim spatial reprogramming can improve the character of the city.”

PARK(ing) Day is a grassroots, “open-source” invention built by independent groups around the globe who adapt the project to champion creative, social or political causes that are relevant to their local urban conditions.

We understand that Kootenai Environmental Alliance, and our fellow instigators around town, will be the only participants from Idaho in this year’s global event. Look for us on Friday, September 17.  Better yet, come join use and help us re-imagine parking lot pavement in North Idaho.

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Intern and Congress-watcher Jordin Jacobs helps with this report:

Full and dedicated funding for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund is expected to be considered this week in the context of comprehensive oil spill legislation being considered by the US Congress.

Since its inception in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has helped state agencies and local communities acquire millions of acres of land for conservation, including Idaho’s Sawtooth National Recreation Area. LWCF grants to states have distributed funds to almost every single county in America for over 41,000 projects including parks, sports fields, swimming pools, playgrounds, and trails. LWCF has also funded the protection of over 1.5 million acres of working forests in over 30 states. Idaho Conservation League’s Susan Drumheller tells us that  local BLM has used LWCF frequently for their waterfront acquisitions an North Idaho spots that have benefited from LWCF include Cougar Bay and Blue Creek Bay.

 LWCF is financed largely through revenue generated in oil and gas leasing. When the LWCF was established, Congress intended that a portion of the oil and gas receipts be dedicated and reinvested in conservation assets across the nation in exchange for the environmental risks inherent in developing finite offshore oil resources. However, in most years, due to tight budgets, Congress and various administrations have diverted funds from their intended purpose.

This year, through the oil spill legislation, it may be possible to fully support of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. We are hopeful that full and dedicated funding will finally be given to conservation for National Parks, forests, wildlife refuges, parks and recreation projects, and other federal lands.

Since it was enacted, LWCF has been the only conservation offset for offshore oil drilling. This year, of all years, it should be fully funded. Give your member of Congress a phone call this week.

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As Mayor Bloem put it, “this isn’t the first time [McEuen Field and park] has been talked about and it won’t be the last.” But it was an impressive show last night at the open workshop sponsored by the City of Coeur d’Alene on design possibilities for the treasured downtown park.

 The Mayor emphasized that there is no set plan for McEuen Park at this point, “There’s been planning, but no plan.” But she acknowledged that some concepts are likely to be lifted from previous planning efforts.

McEuen Field Workshop -- Photo by KEA BlackberryCam

At first, I was put off by the place-the-dots-on-the-poster activity prior to the start of the event.  Yet, the workshop itself was quite impressive. Masterfully facilitated by out-of-town firm MIG, the workshop led attendees through an exercise to rate “visual preferences” for potential park designs and amenities. Then the facilitator led the audience – a nearly full crowd at Lake City Senior Center – through a discussion of what the “character” of the park should be, as the “note-taker” did a semi-impromptu live illustration of the park plans being discussed.

 The workshop mined some excellent ideas for connectivity, integration with Tubbs Hill, better connection to the lakefront, winter activities, and new features. There was some comments advocating for retaining traditional uses in traditional ways, but it was clear that at least this workshop audience was open to change and new ideas.

Note-taking -- photo by KEA BlackberryCam

 Most encouraging, a young skateboarder suggested that parking for the park be relocated closer to City Park and NIC – so as to serve a dual purpose of helping to solve an NIC parking crunch and to get people walking through the commercial district to get to the park. Another suggestion was to eliminate ALL of the parking except for senior and handicapped parking, which seems like a great idea to me. Except for one comment about operations at the boat launch, there seemed to be little disagreement that the vast swath of paved parking should be reclaimed for park purposes.

 If nothing else, the workshop opened some eyes to what might be possible. Like last year’s workshop on the education corridor (that final report is here — a big pdf) , the independent and capable out-of-towners of MIG, were able to provide visual reference points for modern and high-quality design. In doing so, they were able to move the discussion from simply rehabbing a park, to creating a great public space worthy of one of the greatest park settings in the country.

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