Commerce as the engine of urbanism and parks
A couple weeks ago the Wall Street Journal had a good article on parks, "Cities' Message to Young Families: Play and Stay--New Features Include Parks, Playgrounds and Beer Gardens," and I was struck by the description of what we might call a blending of business and park, specifically food and beverage service, and that "beer gardens" are the most in-demand feature of new parks.
I guess it makes sense, given the historical connection to beer production, that Milwaukee County in Wisconsin has beer gardens in some of their parks, and a traveling beer garden park promotion program.
This reminds me of the comment by Professor Alex Wall, who wrote a book about Victor Gruen, one of the leaders in the development of shopping malls, which is:
"Commerce is the engine of urbanism."
The flip side is something that they teach in "Main Street Approach" commercial district revitalization training about "events" that there need to be four components: something to buy; something to do; music; and something to eat.
In short, it's about "activation" but also enabling people to refresh themselves. Sometimes that means eating. Other times that means going to the restroom. But when people can refresh themselves they can also stay longer.
There is a big green, bracketed by a movie theater with an outside screen for open-air screenings, such as cartoons on Saturday mornings.
The "beer gardens" are on the perimeter, a bunch of restaurants with patios, although the movie theater also has outside food service, plus there is a coffee house building set up separately, supporting the green, and the coffeehouse brackets splash fountains for children and is set up like a beach, but without sand, with Adirondack chairs.
This also reminds me of how food shacks, like Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, food service at Bryant Park, both in New York City, are essential activation elements in those parks.
And in Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh (pictured at right, but in late fall) as well.
Traditionally, we have been unable to do this in many equivalent spaces in DC because they are run by the National Park Service and subject to various laws and regulations limiting "non-park activity."
Unfortunately, the Park Service has had a difficult time creating a differentiated set of policies for urban parks, which are also complicated by the fact that many park spaces are subject to specific Congressional mandates.
For some of these NPS parks downwotn, the rise of food trucks has filled the breach, and they converge on various downtown parks and set up shop during lunch time.
People lined up for Food Trucks, Farragut Square
I noticed when we were in Salt Lake City that while Liberty Park doesn't have a food stand within, there looks to be a great cafe just across the street, the Park Cafe.
Being more liberal about commercial uses in spaces abutting parks is one way for cities to get around strictures they might have about for profit operations and food services within park spaces.
Salt Lake City's Pioneer Park is also home to the Saturday Downtown Farmers Market, which in my opinion has to be one of the top 15 farmers markets in the U.S., competitive maybe even better than Portland's and better than the Greenmarket in Union Square in NYC.
Shake Shack Madison Square by night by Christophe Meusy, on Flickr.