Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

February 26, 2013

Don’t put fences around planters; remove them

The Downtown Development Commission has voted to erect an iron fence around two planters at $4,300 per planter (“DDC mulls new plans,” Feb. 15 Times-News, Page 1A).

This investment will not help the downtown. What the DDC should really be considering is removing the planters from downtown, not fortifying them.

Studies on pedestrian malls have stated that programming community events are vital to ensuring their success.

This has been Ed Mullaney’s job for years, and events like Heritage Days, Friday after Five, the Farmer’s Market, Christmas Tree lighting and the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop are a testament to that notion.

During these events, these enormous concrete planters get in the way. The vegetation in many is so dense they make it impossible for large gatherings of people to see a band perform at events like Friday after Five.

I’ve seen booths at Heritage Days set up on the sidewalk up against buildings to fit in spaces where the planter was. I’m sure they limit the amount of vendors that can set up at events like the Farmer’s Market as well.

They present a visual and physical obstacle to events that are vital to the success of our pedestrian mall.

I cannot understand the adamant resistance to removing these planters, resistance I witnessed from people at the public meetings regarding downtown that I attended last summer.

If the planters are designed for people to sit on, and you put a fence on them to keep “the wrong people” from sitting on them so no one can sit on them, and they weren’t designed to be compatible with large gatherings of people, what purpose do they serve?  

Aesthetics? One in front of Downtown Dollar has no vegetation in it all! And what is the style sense of placing something that looks like its from the 1800’s on top of something clearly modern in design?

They are not compatible with what the mall is being used for and by that definition are functionally obsolete.

Insanity is often defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

I would invite the reader to look at this as another instance where less can mean more, and consider other examples in large cities in Europe and Latin America that have a large open square or plaza or marketplace that makes such an area more functional for communal events.

If we really revere and treasure this pedestrian mall, we need to focus more on what works, rather than what doesn’t.

I have to admit, that what Ed Mullaney has done for downtown has been nothing short of a miracle, and I’d like to make his job easier so he can continue to make our downtown a vibrant community center.

The planters are an obstacle to this. If they were removed and replaced with a row of trees on the other side of Baltimore Street, you’d have a more open space that would be more conducive to these events.

When you get a lot of people downtown, anyone predisposed to causing trouble would not feel as welcome there. That’s how a community takes back what is theirs.

Any type of monument or memorial already in place would not have to be permanently removed. It could reoccupy the same space after the planter is removed, no longer having the planter detract from its significance.

Considering that some things on the mall are overdue for an update to bring its design more in harmony with how it is currently used, compared to other possible capital improvements, this would be a rather inexpensive solution to try, at least on one end of the mall.

Albert Keener

Cumberland

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