During my lifetime, I’ve lived in Mexico for three years and spent a month traveling in Spain, experiencing the value of a town square, a welcoming public space that brings community together. Like a living room, a central plaza is a place where people pause in their busy lives to relax, share ideas, celebrate special occasions, play and be entertained, together.
It is an established fact that well-designed and cared for public plazas bring life and vibrancy to a town center, providing a democratic meeting space—an outdoor community center. In this uncertain era of Covid and emerging variants, access to a public outdoor gathering space would be of exceptional value, as we are advised to socialize outdoors as much as possible.
The importance of an outdoor venue to bring people together in our downtown was understood by those who reconfigured the MAH, designing a relaxed outdoor gathering space that immediately filled with conversation, music, food—a joy to walk by, but not the large open public space that a downtown commons would provide.
Imagine walking through our downtown streets in the shadow of the slated-to-be-built many-storied concrete apartments, condos, and maybe a behemoth luxury hotel, blocking sun to meet friends or business associates or just sit on a bench in an open tree-lined park-like plaza with children playing. Imagine tourists (and locals!) looking over the town square weekly event calendar for ways to engage during their visit and perhaps finding outdoor movies, concerts and dances, a cultural festival, an antique fair, a farmer’s market or two!
I recall many years ago, walking from my home down Lincoln St, heading downtown on a weekend and encountering—to my great surprise and delight—a large gathering on the farmers market lot with a stage and food booths, music and speakers, all in Spanish—a joyful gathering of our Oaxacan community. A community commons would provide a permanent place to celebrate and know the rich cultures in our community, a place to gather for a rally after a march, a place for youth to speak out about their future.
Yes, we need to retain and restructure our library per our vote for Measure S in 2016, knowing we have the option to build an extension over the adjacent parking lot. Yes, we need bona fide low-income housing built on or over the many downtown city-owned lots. Yes, we must fill our (verified) unfilled parking lots while developing strategies to mitigate our dependence on cars. Yes, we are obliged to do our part to cut carbon emissions in recognition of the catastrophic threat of global warming.
Yes, yes we must create a welcoming, attractive outdoor community space on our one large open area in the heart of our downtown that will meet our human need to gather in community—to create, to celebrate, to advocate, to play—safely—in this uncertain age of climate catastrophe and pandemics.
With vision and wise leadership, we can have it all.
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