Thursday, May 18, 2006

Two For Ten

One of the most important concepts shared at the recent Project for Public Spaces workshop was the concept called "The Power of Ten"--the idea that if downtown Tacoma had ten places that were fully "activated" then the area would have critical mass, "a series of destinations where tourists and residents alike could become immersed in the city for days at a time".

It's probably obvious that Pacific Plaza (or Tollefson Plaza, as Mayor Baarsma may have us calling it) should be one of our ten great downtown places. But what are the other nine? We're going to suggest one more today and one each Friday for the next eight weeks, and we encourage your comments for or against each suggestion (or suggest some place we don't)...

First, here are some criteria for selecting the ten great spaces. In evaluating thousands of public spaces around the world, PPS has found that successful ones have four key qualities:
  1. They are accessible;
  2. People are engaged in activities there;
  3. The space is comfortable and has a good image;
  4. It is a sociable place--one where people meet each other and take people when they come to visit.
PPS has also assembled some great examples from around the world of successful public spaces that illustrate these criteria in action.

Now, here's our suggestion for the second great space downtown: Theater Square. First created in the 1980s to cover the downtown bus turnaround, this public space is a mecca for key public gatherings and hosts the Broadway Farmers Market every Thursday during the warmer months.


  1. "It's probably obvious that Pacific Plaza (or Tollefson Plaza, as Mayor Baarsma may have us calling it) should be one of our ten great downtown places."

    Yes, it should be. However, we will not likely know for 6 months or so.

    Remember, that we have to look at the end result rather than factors that would support it being successful.

    Theater Square is on the edge of making it. Although the Woolworth building is nearby.

    Once the construction is completed on Broadway on the remodel, there will likely be enough use for it to qualify.

    The one block section in front of Tacoma Financial Center certainly quailfies and is the most viberant function portion of the downtown.

  2. Anonymous12:34 AM

    I agree- this space has so much potential to be a great public space. In my opinion, to reach this potential the park needs to be reconfigured.

    I'm all for plants and trees - but in urban spaces, there ought to be more thought given to how they are used. Green areas always look good in presentations and on maps, but in reality, all green is not equal.

    For example, in the photo below, there is a large triangle hedge to the left of the walkway. Why is this there? What purpose does it serve? It isn't especially attractive. Further, it takes up space that should be filled with people...

  3. Nominations for other downtown locations that SHOULD BE great spaces in no particular order...

    1. Fireman's Park. I rarely see more than a handful of people there during lunchtime which is probably peak usage. Should it become an off-leash dog park?

    2. The area at the top of the UW Tacoma steps at 19th/Jefferson.

    3. The Spanish Steps (Elks)

    4. The fountain/steps on 9th between Pacific and Commerce.

    5. The mini-amphitheatre next to (north of) 950 Pacific Avenue. It has a "stage", electrical outlets, lovely trees. What an under-utilized gem. Hmmmm. Starbucks, LaCasa, Hal of a Sub, India Mahal, Aroma Cafe - all places that offer take-out.

    6. The fountain on 11th and Broadway - it works beautiflly as a gathering space during Thursday market.

    7. The park next to (just south of) the WA State History Museum. What a location and view.

    8. Thea Foss Esplanade / MOG Plaza. Remember how packed it was during Tall Ships? Vendors, attraction, vendors, point of departure, vendors. And what happened to the fountain?

  4. Successful public spaces usually need to be in front of a commercial enterprise of some sort or be near a public amenity to work out. Usually, they need to be by many of them.

    The best areas work in front of restaurants where people take their food and eat there.

    Other places work when they are near waterfrontage or a museum which causes people to use them.

    The area in front of the glass museum is a great example of a public space that works.

    Pacific Plaza could work if the conventioneers use it to hang out or if the area is used continuously for events.

    The best part of the area is that it connects the North and South part of Pacific Avenue and that it faces Pacific avenue.

    So far, however, people have not wanted to be there much without an event.

  5. Anonymous3:05 PM

    I think 'people's plaza' is much more fitting... but that's just me.