Archive for July, 2010
Following up on my post about public spaces/places, it’s apropos to say something about the new Silver Spring Civic Center.
Love the architecture, question the open space.
Starting with the positive, it’s wonderful to see modern, contemporary architecture – a first in Silver Spring and what I hope will be a trendsetter for the County. Sure, the style has been around for over half a century, but it stands the test of time and it’s new here. Kudos to all involved for bringing a sleek, angular design that casts a wonderful glow day and night to such a public space.
From any angle – front, back and from either side – the building looks terrific. Great color combos and materials, and the lighting in the grand hall fills just the right amount of space. What a contrast to the unimaginative parking garage across the street – which happens to be the view out my apartment window on Wayne.
The building’s architecture raises the bar. Everyone, particularly those programming buildings at public agencies, can see what simple design can do for the public realm.
But what about the plaza? Think back to when it was astro turf. While turf is the subject of debate as a surface for playing fields, when it was all that existed in the Civic Center space it resulted in an amazing amount of activity.
I remember walking by on a summer day when two moms were sitting on the turf with their little ones, perhaps two or three years old. One little girl got away and started running. No boundaries. No fences. Limitless space just to run.
And if you stood in front of Adega and looked out at the turf on almost any summer evening, the activity was beyond anything you’d find in the metro area. People of all ethnicities; singles, families, and groups; soccer, break-dancing, eating, talking, sleeping. All unstructured, unprogrammed activity.
The turf was an unintended experiment that resulted in perhaps one of the great public spaces in the Washington area and perhaps the country. I can think of few public spaces that generated such a diverse range of activity, by such a diverse population for such a low investment and design. It was very cool.
The new space will, by virtue of its location and the attraction of the shops on Ellsworth, be successful. Already, crowds are gathering to see the programmed events. All that’s missing is the spontaneity, the creative interpretation of the space that the turf generated. Frankly put, it is over designed.
Look at Union Square in San Fran as an example of a great public space, a space that has stood the test of decades – with facelifts, but with its basic structure intact. Simple, low maintenance, easily programmed and when it is not, a real retreat in the heart of the city. While designed, the space offers flexibility for different experiences even when there are no events.
Small buildings at each end offer pretty good fare with movable seating – important when trying to catch some rays. Tiered bands of concrete and grass step down to Macy’s and its popular sitting space.
In between, there is just a hard surfaced area that hosts art shows and other events. When nothing is there, the place teems with people. And the textures — grass, stone, concrete, metal — all offer a range of materials creating different sounds, shades and experiences.
Very cool, and it works. And oh, by the way, the parking garage is under the plaza, not in a seven-story structure across the street.
But back to Silver Spring. The pavilion roof and concrete hinder the space. The little strips of grass are a little too small to have a picnic, and we must wait a few years for the trees to offer shade.
Love the moveable chairs, already a hot commodity on event night. But gone is the spontaneity. I expect it will take on a new personality over time. So while the architecture broke the mold for civic buildings in the County, we have yet to truly design great public space. But we are moving in the right direction and who knows, maybe there is another location for the astro turf.
Data: boring, exciting, questionable, manipulative, and open to interpretation. It is all of these things — and frustrating, too.
When I was Director of Planning in St. Louis, we dreaded any release where a university professor would take some stat and show how all the Midwest cities ranked the worst. The big offender was some guy working in a basement in Kansas City who produced his “most dangerous” city stat each year. His comparison of city crime stats became a competition between Detroit and St. Louis for the number one rank. Of course, it was picked up by all the news agencies.
Now that Detroit has a new crime TV show named after it, I guess they win.
What this guy never did, however, was look at geography. And if he did, he would find that St. Louis, where the city boundary was only 62 square miles, was much smaller geographically than Phoenix, for example. And if St. Louis could annex the affluent burbs like Phoenix does, the crime rate would drop in so many categories that St. Louis would have better stats than Phoenix.
So the old saying that “there are lies, damned lies and statistics,” has some value. Despite frustrations with data and the mistakes one can find, we have worked to produce the first data summary for Montgomery County, titled Montgomery County Snapshot: Council Districts by the Numbers.
The information is simple, factual and organized at the county level and each of the Council Districts. From this basis, I think the comparisons are relevant. Same data sources, apples to apples.
The real value is in looking at the differences. For example, check out the property values or percentage of ethnicities in one area of the County compared to the next. We are working to get State information on business development soon, and if we overlay that on top of the areas with the higher levels of minorities, I expect to see the highest levels of new business development.
Just over 48 percent of the County population is made up of minorities, and when the 2010 Census data starts to trickle out in two years, we will probably find out that the County has a “majority minority” population. This is a great stat, because the metro areas that attract immigrants are the ones that will be competitive in the future.
I look forward to people chewing up the data and drawing conclusions. In a couple of months we will produce a report comparing the County to other counties in the region and around the country. That should get the dialogue going.