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September 4, 2009 10:34:00 AM
Thursday night after a 2-1/2-day immersion into Columbus, a team of planners, marketers and designers presented a dream of what could be.
"Tonight what we''re talking about," Ben Wiseman, one of the presenters at the Main Street-sponsored charrette stressed, "is not ''the'' vision but ''a'' vision, a road map."
But what a road map it is. Some of it is plausible; some of it isn''t. All of it bears consideration.
More importantly, these out-of-town experts offered a positive message to a community that too often is its own worst critic. Citing an embarrassment of riches like the river, Mississippi University for Women, downtown, the Air Base and our historic architecture, the charrette team noted that any town would be delighted to have any one of these assets.
"Your downtown is a national model for revitalization," one presenter said. "It is an economic engine for the community. The success of downtown needs to spread to adjacent neighborhoods and commercial corridors."
Indeed, and that was the theme of the presenters: spreading the success of downtown by connecting neighborhoods and public projects that are too often viewed as independent and separate. They proposed doing this through signage and banners with consistent graphics -- one proposed slogan we liked: "Columbus, Discover a New World;" by developing areas that connect neighborhoods such as the warehouse district near the old Marble Works on Southside; and by making commercial areas more pedestrian friendly.
The charrette team offered its views on a site of a soccer complex, an issue that''s been hotly debated for years. The planners presented a vision for a park in Burns Bottom that incorporates soccer fields, yet as they said, "is much more than a soccer complex."
Using images of unlighted and unfenced baseball fields in a wooded section of New York''s Central Park and sports fields in European city parks, the planners proposed a solution that preserves Burns Bottom''s wetlands and forested areas and creates a outdoor park that has something for everyone. "Fields set in among trees in an outdoor room," as they put it.
The ambitious project would connect the Riverwalk, downtown, the convention center and, through trails along Moore''s Creek, north Columbus. If realized as envisioned by the charrette team, the Tan Fields Park, as they renamed it, could be a community resource that is much more than six soccer fields.
Randy Wilson, team leader, anticipates it taking six to eight weeks before the group offers a set of guidelines for implementation of the charrette findings. As Wilson said more than once, "To plan is human; to implement is divine."
We were encouraged by the attendance of the public meetings and the degree of interest. Thanks to the efforts of Main Street Columbus and the participation of many interested citizens we have a vision of what could be.
Where do we go from here? How do we begin to make these dreams reality? That will take planning, money and a community-wide commitment.
We were heartened that our city and county leaders joined in the process. And, it was cathartic to hear them speak bluntly about the challenges we face.
But this was all the easy part. Time for the hard part: Working together to implement a vision we all can agree will make the city a better place.