Open space as wasted space?
Tue, 10/04/2011 - 10:38pm | by nmhood
I follow a lot of development proposals in my local area and one of the most common concerns (other than parking) is that of open space. The phrase evokes images of rolling prairie lands, untouched forests and pristine wilderness. All of these things are “open space”, but not the type of open space I’m talking about.
Here is a (somehow) controversial building proposal that will be taking away “open space” … [it's everything I was taught was good in graduate school: mixed-use, five stories, compliments the street; it's an infill project on a bus line and within walking distance to parks and great neighborhood shops].
Now, what is “open space”? It can be defined in a million ways, and unfortunately; here is one of them:
This is “open space”- between the rear of the Super Target and the parking lot for the pancake house. It has a bike path that connects virtually no one to no where. It’s convenient if you want to bike from the Original Pancake House, behind the Target, down a quarter of a mile of big box loading docks, past the Chucky Cheese to the Office Max [NOTE: This is a bad public investment. The bike path doesn't improve property values or promote better, higher revenue generating, land uses. It is merely an extra expense to taxpayers].
The building shown above is a proposal in South Minneapolis to build a 5 story, mixed-use building [Linden Corner] over a parking lot and small, standard single-use restaurant building. This is affluent South Minneapolis, and to no surprise – there is neighborhood opposition. One complaint I hear echoed from residents is a loss of “open space”. The problem with open space in this neighborhood is that there is tons of it! It’s next to Lake Harriet, Linden Hills Park, Beards Plaisance, Weber Park, Minikahada Vista Park, Waveland Park, Dell Park and Berry Park (all of which are within a ten minute walk from this site). And, this doesn’t even mention that most dwellings are single family homes with yards (e.g.: private open space).
But, what is this complaint of “loss of open space” but fear of the unknown? I mean, today the site is predominately covered by asphalt that serves no purpose beyond surface parking. Are we that afraid of new development that we’d rather have a parking lot?
I’ve spent a good portion of time in Europe, and other places across the globe that have activited towns and cities. Anywhere else in the world you’ll see little open space in cities besides a large central park or plaza. The reason is that the street is the open space. Why does an Italian town need open space with they have pleasant cafes or vibrant urban plazas?
I think the remedy is simple: America’s struggling downtowns and neighborhoods need good urbanism – not more open space.
We need to stop having open space for the sake of having open space. Instead, let's do small, peicemeal urbanization by filling in the missing teeth of neighborhoods and then taking our already exisiting open spaces and making them worth caring about.
I’ll end with a fitting quote from James Howard Kunstler …
Having become abstracted and alienated from the human need to live in the civic setting, we now think the cure for this disease is another abstraction: green space, open space. Notice how vague these terms are. And, naturally, it is not working for us. When you ask for an “open space,” you get a berm between the K-mart and the apartment complex. That’s how it’s delivered. And it’s all specified in your zoning codes. It’s certainly not a park. It’s where the psychotic teenagers go to torture the kitty-cats. Ask for a “green space” and you will get a bark mulch bed with the little juniper shrubs — symbolic cartoon fragments of the North Woods. This is consequence of that kind of abstraction. We have forgotten what the city is, we have forgotten what the country is.
You can read more on my blog @ Thoughts on the Urban Environment.