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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Civic Life for a Wino Park

There was a Halloween party for children at Whalen Park in the Norwood neighborhood in The Bronx on Saturday.  More than a hundred kids attended with their parents.  They played games.  They made crafts. They danced to music played by a DJ. They sat and listened when the children's librarian from the Mosholu Branch Library next door came outside to read stories. Dozens of older adults gathered along the sidewalk right outside the park, leaning on the low fence to watch the spectacle inside and generally socializing with one another.

Whalen Park has suffered from a reputation as a place where the homeless and drunks congregate.  Its image was perhaps worse than the actual conditions ever were, and it has improved considerably over the years. Nevertheless, use of the park often remains low, and, occasionally, somebody sleeping on one of the benches will still make neighborhood residents feel uncomfortable being there.

There has been an ongoing debate within the local neighborhoods about the future of Whalen Park. There are a few local individuals who share the view of senior officials at the Department of Parks and Recreation that the park should be converted to a playground and surrounded with a taller fence. The idea of converting the park is intended to force out the "undesirables."  In New York City, adults are legally prohibited from entering a playground unless they are accompanying a child. This perspective seems to belong primarily to people who have only fleeting glimpses of the park, many of them local library patrons from an adjacent neighborhood.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Uses for Unbuilt Streets

I am very excited to follow a program that will create community uses within the right of way of unimproved streets.  The program was recently announced by the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT): http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/63612.

According to PBOT:
The concept came from Mayor Hales, who thought the City should try to empower communities to help determine what their neighborhoods look like by creating something useful and attractive. Many homeowners on unimproved streets have said that expensive paving projects are not what they prefer, but lower cost alternatives such as placing benches or gardens in the public right of way would still require a City permit. 
These sorts of uses raise some challenging issues, and yet they may also provide very fertile ground for experimentation that could ultimately shape the long-term treatment of other streets that have already been "fully improved."

While the clear premise is that any street selected currently carries traffic well enough in its existing condition, and there are no short-term plans to pave and widen the street, the first question that arises is whether the full right-of-way may become necessary for street purposes in the future.  Creating community uses there now could compromise the ability to reclaim the property for transportation uses later.