Eyes on the Street as the Solution for Acacia Park

Okay, so I have assembled the following quote based upon comments that I hear about Downtown Colorado Springs often. I wish that no one actually says such things, but it is said because it is the simple band-aid to temporarily make a problem go away. We need to stop just putting on band aids and finding solutions.

Acacia Park is a problem for Downtown Colorado Springs and what we really need to do is close the park in the evenings and have security there at all times.

Acacia Park (illustrated in the map below; click to make larger), is a park in Downtown Colorado Springs that occupies a full City block. It is a park regarded by many as a liability for the Downtown community, due to its heavy use by The Others. The Others, of course, is a term that I am borrowing from the television show Lost because there really is no way to accurately describe the undesirable elements of Acacia Park. Some may refer to The Others as shadies, undesirablesdelinquents, homeless, etc. None of which can nicely and accurately fit.

Base Aerial courtesy of Bing Maps.
Base Aerial courtesy of Bing Maps.

The discussion of Acacia Park is relevant today, because we are in the Holiday Season and there have been great strides made toward activating Acacia Park. The Park was the nexus of activity Downtown during several events promoted by the Downtown Partnership under the creative and activist leadership of interim Executive Director, Hannah Parsons. My hat is off to Hannah, as she has been a great burst of energy for our City. My hat is also off to another lady, whom I have not yet had the pleasure to meet, Colorado Springs new Parks Director, Karen Palus. The following are some of the events that were centered on Acacia Park in the month of December with these two ladies leading the charge:

• Downtown Holiday Kick Off (Tree Lighting and Christmas carols)

• Festival of Lights Parade (Annual event onTejon Street)

• Skate in the Park (Temporary simulated “ice skating” surface in the Park)

• Holiday Stroll (Engagement of all Downtown businesses)

The reason that I bring up the events regarding this discussion of Acacia Park is that when Downtown was activated by the events, the The Others were no longer present in Acacia Park. To my knowledge, they were not asked to leave. They simply did not want to be there. Generally speaking, The Others, will position themselves in places that are isolated, unless of course they want to solicit something… then they will go where there are a lot of people. Although, the safety level in places with lots of people goes up due to The Others being lost in the midst of everyone else. Make sense?

Let me elaborate a little further. We noticed the same activity during Better Block Pikes Peak. In fact, the Time lapse video even illustrates it to a degree with the quantity of people in the median conversing, enjoying the art, playing music, hula-hooping and even doing some amazing acrobatic activity (I don’t know what this is called that they are doing, but I am positive that there is a name for it… and it was Awesome!). It is quite spectacular to see the psychology of where people want to be. Check out some of art, acrobatic activity and other photos from Better Block Pikes Peak here.

I will leave you with a couple more brief thoughts, followed up by an excerpt from one of my favorite books, regarding our urban places:

  • If we ignore, or decide to write-off, a place someone else will occupy it. Once it is ignored, it takes a concerted effort to revive the place.
  • No, throwing security and money at a place is not the solution unless it involves a long-term strategy to activate it, ideally with a return on the investment for adjacent property owners.
  • Programming is critical, at least at the beginning of the resurrection, to the success of the place. If we are lucky enough, beyond the initial programming, it will organically become active.
  • Design is beneficial, but when in isolation, it will not make a place great. Our country is littered with beautifully designed places that sit empty and become havens for The Others. (Side note: My friends at HB&A took on Acacia Park a year or two ago and came up with some great concepts that are worth watching.)

An excerpt the book The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs:

“A city street equipped to handle strangers, and to make a safety asset, in itself, our of the presence of strangers, as the streets of successful city neighborhoods always do, must have three main qualities:

First, there must be a clear demarcation between what is public space and what is private space. Public and private spaces cannot ooze into each other as they do typically in suburban settings or in projects.

Second, there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to insure the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind.

And third, the sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce the people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks in sufficient numbers. Nobody enjoys sitting on a stoop or looking out a window at an empty street. Almost nobody does such a thing. Large numbers of people entertain themselves, off and on, by watching street activity.”

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