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Design professionals rally around Civic Park concept

Posted online

by Robert Stockdale

for the Business Journal

There are many positive forces currently changing the shape and character of Springfield.

Of particular importance are the stirrings in the center city and Commercial Street districts, where visionary entrepreneurs are rescuing vacant and under-utilized properties, breathing welcome new life into old Springfield.

Private investment is slowly returning, and the revitalization effort will at some point in time if it has not already begin fueling itself. What is now old will soon be new again.

There are efforts on an individual scale, and there are also large, publicly funded efforts.

Civic Park has the capacity to strengthen center city by leveraging substantial private investment in the rehabilitation of historic structures, neighborhoods and quality infill development while creating a place for us to come together again, refocused on our "community-ness."

Nearby, the new Greene County Jail, acting as an architectural catalyst, presents a distinct opportunity to positively impact the city government complex by strengthening and unifying the overall architectural composition.

Both of these projects can and will have a tremendous impact on the urban fabric of our downtown.

It is an exciting and rewarding time to be a design professional living in Springfield but it can also be quite frustrating. Recent efforts by many local qualified firms have proved unsuccessful in securing these two important and sizable public design commissions. The consequences of these decisions have several aspects.

When considering the specialized expertise and experience of an imported consultant, some aspects can be beneficial and positive but some can be much less so.

However, the most important aspect or risk associated with using out-of-town consultants is not in the economic or employment-related factors. It is rather in the overlooking of the creative energies that exist within the community.

The contribution those energies can make to the final outcome of these two important projects could have been a lost opportunity, but in the case of Civic Park, many of those energies have already been put to good use.

The Civic Park Advisory Board recognized the community as an inspirational resource and developed a forum where the ideas and dreams of interested individuals and organizations could be heard and given consideration in the design of Civic Park.

Over the past several weeks, public forums have been held at the Vision 20/20 building, generating a wealth of ideas. Most commendable have been the voices of architects and engineers who have come forward to contribute their creative thoughts and expertise, and for whom the only benefit will be a better park for downtown Springfield.

Dick Stahl asked that the park be a unique destination and to remember to consider the park from a child's perspective.

Bob Boehner reminded us all of the importance of the businesses and neighborhoods at the edge of the park, and how they will be impacted by it.

Mike Pentecost challenged the design to include a focus on the history and future of Jordan Creek and the watershed that serves it.

Tim Rosenbury spoke of the need for passive space for leisure pursuits instead of packing the park full of activity elements without relief.

Jane Doney emphasized the promotion of the arts, including accommodations for a professional theater company.

And here are some additional thoughts:

A park is a rare opportunity to engage a visitor on a variety of scales. Edges, connections and the relationship of park elements have been discussed on a land planning scale, and it needs to be reinforced that the basic relationships of a wall to the earth, a beam to a column or a roof to the sky are equally important.

There is a tremendous resource of talented craftsmen locally that can help ensure that the exploration and discovery experience of the park can continue at the most personal and human level.

Visitors to the Ozarks bring an anticipation for hand-crafted things. Notable examples are the work of architect Fay Jones at the Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs and the incredible, lighthearted detailing at Big Cedar Lodge and Bass Pro Shops. The reputation of attractions such as Silver Dollar City and the skills of our Amish neighbors, as well as countless other craftsmen and artists, present an expectation of quality to our guests and to us.

The built structures in Civic Park should acknowledge that expectation by exemplifying the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the earliest Ozarks settlers. These traditional skills and methods, alive in many of our contemporary craftsmen, can have appropriate applications to 21st century architecture.

Art should be dynamic, engaging, and three-dimensional, encouraging exploration. Some art should passively generate sound, such as a giant wind chime, or a field of wheat fashioned in metal that sings as the wind pushes through it. Sound adds personality to the park.

Fountains as art need to be participatory and experienced, not simply viewed from a distance. Give the water features several moods not just one to another but each individually. Fountains can be ice sculptures in the winter.

A water "exhibit" might diagram the stages of a river from drought to flood by allowing a visitor to control the water flow and witness the consequences. Another water feature might highlight the various stages of how water moves through the Ozarks watershed.

Consider a tree nursery to immediately begin the transplanting of significant savable trees that are in the path of construction in the park. Small caliber trees can be planted now to have the benefit of one or two growing seasons, then transplanted later.

After the park opens, the nursery can continue operation for future phases or for maintenance and infill work. Initiate a "give-a-tree," or "adopt-a-tree" program.

Design areas of the park to have distinctive characteristics, so that there is more than just one design vocabulary. This would provide the park with different personalities that can appeal to a broader range of visitors, increasing the likelihood that there is something or someplace in the park for everyone.

It will also reward visitor movement through the park with the discovery of a variety of textures and moods revealed as the open space unfolds in a wealth of settings.

It is encouraging to see that the design professionals in our community have recognized the importance of a successful Civic Park to our quality of life, and have therefore sensed an obligation to become a steward to the process, even though there may be no fees to be earned.

The number of individuals, both design professionals and just interested groups and citizens, who have come forward with good creative ideas is strong evidence of a proud community focused on its future while wanting to preserve the best of its past.

It is a process worth repeating.

(Robert Stockdale, AIA, is senior project manager for The Wischmeyer Architects.)

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