Saturday, February 16, 2008

Springfield City Center

I was going to write a blog on the historic aspects of our town square, however most of my work has already been published by Dan Chiles and the Springfield News Leader. I will only add that during this period of transition of the square the city is going to spend a fortune on the lawsuits which will be filed to keep this historic square intact as much as possible


Meet with square's original architect to get consensus

The Springfield city square is an early work by Lawrence Halprin, America's most famous landscape architect. Halprin designed the visitor's attractions at Yosemite National Park, Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, Sea Ranch in California and the new FDR Presidential Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Springfield city square has the most distinguished pedigree of any building or project in our town. It came from a lengthy design process that included (I'm told) nine design revisions which are archived at the University of Pennsylvania.

The short barricades that surround much of the square and account for many complaints by our citizens were apparently added later along with the street that circles the plaza. For decades, Springfield's square has enjoyed no major capital improvements or upgrades. Lighting, programming and access need attention.

People in Springfield want a square that is bright, well lit, accessible and programmed with cool events. We can spend our $800,000 (plus change) federal dollars for a new square or we can upgrade the Halprin design.

In the past year of public meetings, none of our design team bothered to call Halprin and ask his opinion, but I did. He is 91 years old, alert and interested in our square, just as he was 38 years ago. He is extremely kind and supportive. He said our square needed enhancements and he is willing to spend time with a Springfield delegation to "reach a consensus." He wants to meet with four people.

The city has applied for federal money to demolish our square, but that money comes with strings. In brief, permitting cannot legally begin until a Section 106 review has been completed, which results in a determination of "no historic resources," "no adverse effect" upon historic resources or "adverse effect" upon historic resources.

I predict Springfield is in for a long and bitter fight if we try to spend federal tax dollars to demolish Halprin's work.

If we are smart enough to accept Mr. Halprin's offer, we can win four ways: preserve the Halprin landmark, honor the citizen request for improvements, stretch our tax dollars and do everything faster.

My City Council job pays nothing and drags me away from work and family, but I am willing to put a thousand bucks toward Halprin's fee of $10,000. We are talking about a meeting the first week of March at his office. I'm looking for three other volunteers.

Dan Chiles is a member of the Springfield City Council.

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