Opinion: Plenty Wrong with Promenade Designs

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Billy Fried

For the life of me, I’ll never understand it. After all the drubbings this and previous councils have taken over their over-reliance on consultants who produce pedantic garbage that is never acted upon, they persist in wasting our time and money on outsiders who have tin ears on what makes this place special. Just listen to some of them try to pronounce Glenneyre, and you’ll know we’re in trouble.

Why go outside when we can get it done here better, faster and way cheaper from our deep well of urban planning savants? Let them submit the design ideas for a permanent pedestrian plaza on Forest. Then let the community truly vet it, and then have engineers make it work – instead of those two faux workshops put on by our consultants where we sat like lemmings and listened but learned nothing about how promenades work, successes and failures in other cities, and clear objectives and opportunities for Forest. 

The first one, way back in September, was a debacle. No designs were shown, just textiles on the walls that we were supposed to vote for by attaching a pin. That’s like choosing an outfit but having no idea where you’re going. 

The last presentation in May – the long-awaited eight months in the making great unveiling in front of an SRO crowd – landed with a resounding thud. Two variations of the exact same design. The exact one we have now, in fact – a wide pedestrian path down the exposed middle, seating on the sides, and a narrow sidewalk fronting the shops. Only gussied up with planters, art, and neat pavers. The other variation…wait for it, the same design, but with a swervy path down the middle instead of a straight one. Wait, this took eight months, and we paid people for it?!

And then we were given no opportunity for real-time feedback or discourse, instead told to write out comments or leave them on the city’s website. This wasn’t so much a “work” shop as it was a “play me for a fool” shop. A polite but clearly didactic presentation intended to force a design upon us and mute any dissent.

It’s a rigged system that only gets us the lowest common denominator, a generic design for our town common that I, for one, don’t think works. Whether you walk a straight line or stagger like a drunk, there’s no life to it. No heart. The few people who stroll the middle now have nothing to look at. The storefronts are obscured, there’s no shade, and it’s uninviting. Just look how dead it is most of the time.

Why wasn’t any consideration given to alternative ways of generating flow that engages pedestrians to linger longer, pause, and window shop?

I’m in Spain at the moment, and from Barcelona to Mallorca, the most engaging pedestrian promenades are those where the restaurant and cafe seating is put right in the middle, continuously down the line, driving pedestrians to the sides, closer to the merchants, Strollers can look one way at shops, and the other at people. 

The best part is if you plant trees on either side of the cafe seating, they grow to create shade both for diners and strollers, keeping our streets cooler and more enjoyable. 

Here are some more things that bug about the consultants’ designs, which are up on the city website. There is no caveat as to whether these designs are intentionally missing detail. But it’s sloppy either way. For instance, there’s no seating in front of Moulin. And not only was seating missing in front of Brussels Bistro, but so was Brussels Bistro together. They’ve been scrubbed clean from the design. Guess our consultants don’t like beer.

Instead, they gave us pretty renderings with all kinds of trees, planters, stages and the requisite children’s play area, but how about some things that would truly activate the area for strollers and make it more “Laguna?” Why don’t we, for instance, make the plaza appealing to our culture of mountain and road bikers? Why not a hang-out spot with a large bike corral (rack), perhaps a free filtered water system for refills, and of course, close proximity to beer, that coveted after-riding ritual? (Brussels Bistro, anybody?)

And why not some real beverage and food carts for those who don’t want to indulge in our overpriced restaurants (or can’t get in). Why not a coffee cart manned by any of our numerous coffee shops and some healthier, artisan ice cream or ice cream substitute? How about boutique and artisan hand-made pop-ups, giving young makers and entrepreneurs a sales channel? How about a midweek evening farmers’ or morning craft market? Outdoor movie nights. Local art shows. Why didn’t our consultants include any of these ideas to customize it for our particular culture? 

I have no idea whether there’s time to fix this debacle or whether the process was always just covered to squeeze out the easiest, most generic design. One that, when completed, will leave us scratching our heads at the inertia and saying, “What a missed opportunity. It could have been so much better.”

Billy is the CEO of La Vida Laguna, an outdoor adventure company, and the host of “Laguna Talks” on KXFM radio – Thursdays at 8 p.m. Email: [email protected]

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