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The Heart of Lafayette Square

November 14, 2004 Parking, Plazas No Comments
According to the sign at the new plaza and parking lot at 18th & Park Ave, it is the Heart of Lafayette Square. Silly me, I assumed the heart of Lafayette Square was actually Lafayette Square. Maybe someone voted to move the heart?


Yeah, that’s it. Someone voted to move the heart away from the 30 acre park platted in 1836. Come on, that stunningly beautiful park has had 168 years as the heart of the neighborhood so why not give a tiny plaza with fountain designed to conceal a surface parking lot a chance at being the heart?

The picture below is looking East along Park Ave. Keeping with much of LS the street parking is angled parking. I have no objection to this, especially when you have a really wide street as you can get more parking along a street this way verses parallel parking.

But look at that picture again. I’ve got lots of problems with this “plaza.” First, no fucking street trees! People – trees should be along every street between parked cars and the sidewalk. Exceptions to this rule, in my mind, are limited to the entrance to major civic structures such as a courthouse, city hall, school or house of worship. Otherwise, I want to see street trees.

The picture below is of the of the same view but a little closer to the corner. The planting area in the right of the picture is completely lacking trees as well. I guess the designers didn’t want to block the view of the fountain when you parked your car? One of the most disturbing aspects of this design is the lighting. Along the street is the neighborhood standard with its yellow cast. Inside the “plaza” and the parking lot is obnoxiously bright white lighting.

This bright lighting overpowers the entire corner. It is completely inappropriate for anything except a suburban parking lot. Oh wait, that is what this really is. The plaza, fountain and park benches are not about creating a pleasant park space but making a parking lot for suburbanites acceptable to an otherwise strict neighborhood. I believe Squires restaurant wanted visibility from Park Ave. as well as a parking lot for their West County customers.
Ideally Park Ave would have commercial & residential buildings along the South side of the street to balance the buildings on the North. Construction has begun on such a building immediately across the street from this plaza to the North. Park Avenue could have been a wonderfully urban street with trendy restaurants, bars and shops. But, now it is stuck with this bright eyesore.

This plaza will not be used. Why would anyone spend time here reading a book or playing chess with friends? If anyone will use this park it will be folks waiting for a dinner table at Squires. Will the owners of the new condos across the street use the plaza? Doubtful. Will people from other areas say, “Let’s go over to the new heart of Lafayette Square and hang out.” Nope.

The opening paragraph to chapter 5 (The Uses of Neighborhood Parks) of Jane Jacob’s classic book Death & Life of Great American Cities goes like this:

Conventionally, neighborhood parks or parklike open spaces are considered boons conferred on the deprived populations of cities. Let us turn this thought around, and consider parks deprived places that need the boon of life and appreciation conferred on them. This is more nearly in accord with reality, for people do confer use on parks and make them successes — or else withhold use and doom parks to rejection and failure.
Simply building a park or plaza does not mean it is needed, it will be used or successful. This plaza, just two blocks from Lafayette Park, is not a destination of its own. The lack of urban life immediately around the plaza tells me this plaza will remain vacant most of the time except perhaps at dinner rush or during major events when the number of people in Lafayette Square is increased substantially. Day to day and morning to evening this plaza will be lacking the most important thing – people.

This plaza is nothing more than expensive window dressing for a parking lot.



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