Sunday, August 13, 2017

Building Upon the Ephemeral

PIVOT Architecture's SIT (im.a.bench) parklet  located on Olive Street between Broadway and 10th Avenue

I finally found the time this weekend to check out the completed winners of the Eugene Parklet Competition. As I reported upon the announcement of the selected entrants, the competition succeeded in drawing attention to downtown Eugene’s ongoing resurgence and also to the outsized power of modest urban interventions designed to make parts of the city more lively or enjoyable. Step-by-step and piece-by-piece, the parklet competition and similar initiatives (such as the City of Eugene’s “lighter, quicker, and cheaper” projects this summer) have drawn welcome attention to temporary efforts that hint at the promise of more permanent and likewise transformative changes to our public space.

I’m sure each of the four parklets shone best through their debut as part of the July 30 Downtown Sunday Streets event, and the following week as featured destinations for the August 5 First Friday Art Walk. Alas, during my quick stroll-by I found all to be unoccupied, despite plenty of passersby on a busy Saturday afternoon. They appeared forlorn and all too quickly forsaken.

Perhaps it was simply a matter of poor timing on my part. By design, their appeal was preordained to be as fleeting and ephemeral as the beauty of the cherry blossom. The parklets are not permanent. Regardless, a little bit of TLC (periodic cleaning, etc.) might extend their attractiveness. The targeted date for their deconstruction is this October, so plenty of time remains to warrant their continued upkeep.

Vivid Summer parklet located on Broadway in front of the Bijou Theater; design by Lindsey Deaton and Chistopher Becker

Cameron McCarthy's pinYOUgene parklet, also on Broadway.

Framing Parklet, by Propel Studio, on Broadway in front of Townshend's Tea.

Despite my disappointment in not finding the parklets in use, there’s no doubt in my mind they fulfilled the intention of the competition’s organizers, who envisioned the parklets as part of a series of short-term, low-cost, and highly visible projects intended to catalyze more permanent and profound changes in our city’s core. The goals are to build public acceptance of a deliberate, phased approach to instigating change, and to enhance the perception of downtown Eugene as a pedestrian-friendly and an amenity-rich precinct. The challenge now will be for the City of Eugene to build upon and sustain the momentum generated by the parklets competition. Ideally, this momentum will be sustained both from the top down (through government leadership) and the bottom up (as citizens endorse the most desirable of these changes). Ultimately, downtown will thrive as more permanent human-scaled improvements appear incrementally with increasing frequency. 

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