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PARK POTENTIAL: Green space on Commercial Street and a gravel path downtown, below, are yearning to mix nature and humanity.
PARK POTENTIAL: Green space on Commercial Street and a gravel path downtown, below, are yearning to mix nature and humanity.

Opinion: Best opportunities for next urban park

Eyes & Ears

Posted online

There’s something about urban parks that bring out culture and vibrancy in a city.

Springfield has a few urban park settings that provide that sense of place and nature – most notably Jordan Valley Park, Founders Park and the Route 66 Roadside Park.

But lately I’ve noticed several spots ripe for patches of grass and public seating amid multistory buildings. These are places yearning for both nature and humanity.

Urban parks are defined by green space, the ability to gather people and location amid the hustle and bustle of a city. They range from the breathtaking Central Park in New York City to a tree, grass and a bench in any urban core.

So here are the best opportunities for the next urban park in Springfield.

1. There is a historical gem that few people know about hidden between the College Station parking garage and the dilapidated former Remington’s building downtown. It’s the old calaboose – that’s a term for jail. And when I say old, I mean the oldest structure owned by the city. It was built in 1891 and now is open as a public museum during First Friday Art Walk. Currently, a 100-foot gravel patch in front of the calaboose is all that welcomes passersby. Worse, concrete barricades along the nearby sidewalk say: Keep your distance. Imagine sod divided by a windy walkway to the doorway with easy-care trees or shrubs on either side. Maybe a signpost out front reclaiming that history. (There is a placard right outside the door.) I say kick the gravel to the curb.

2. This one falls under the missed opportunity category. It’s the old City Utilities bus terminal on Park Central West. New landowner Scott Tillman has just turned it into a private surface parking lot – to complement his adjacent private surface parking lot. Now, there’s an acre of parking. Before CU put it up for sale, I’ve recommended a nice dog park for the remaining strip that runs along the backside of the Woolworth building. I think I hear the jeers of Spot and Rover down the street in their center city apartments. Now, the best grass they’ve got is what surrounds the College Station theater. I’m sure the cinema operators love that. Beyond a dog park, the potential was there for an urban farmers market, food-truck park or a collection of public art. But other business needs prevailed.

3. There’s a half-acre grassy field on Main Avenue, just down the street from the new bus station. This one involves daylighting Jordan Creek, you know the always talked about, perpetually kicked around but never completed uncovering of concrete laid over the creek. I’m sure more has to go into it environmentally speaking than I realize, but the potential is big. Here’s a chance for public sculptures, outdoor games and maybe a small amphitheater alongside a trickling stream. Place some native vegetation and stone landscaping on the banks, and it’s made for public gatherings. Nevermind the scary Hotel of Terror building is on the other side - we can suspend that concern for now.

4. What I call the “Do Good Square” on Commercial Street is well on its way. The patch of grass is just awaiting some landscaping and seating – something to further draw in those walking by. The walkability quotient of C-Street is increasing and an urban park here would continue to tip the scale. There are enough vibrant businesses right by – The Vecino Group, nForm Architecture and Q Enotica wine bar, in addition to the retail and restaurants – that I’m confident staff would get outside on breaks and patrons would use it as they stroll. Do Good Square already has the aesthetic/form; now it needs the function.

If you work or live in an urban core, next time you’re out walking, look for the existing urban park spaces to enjoy and join me in spotting the next ones.

Springfield Business Journal Editorial Director Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.

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