A late June day, when all the plants are greened up and leafed out, is about as good as it gets for evaluating a public space.
Granted, I was sitting in the Stadium Village public space on Washington Avenue — between the tracks near the Green Line station — on a Sunday, and also between the end of spring term and the beginning of the first summer term, so there were fewer students around to enliven it than there might be normally.
Otherwise, I think it was about as optimal a time to observe the reality of the space as you could ask for.
What was it like as a place to hang out in, to talk with a friend? What can it tell us for other spaces like this, which some of us wish for in the future, such as the Twin Cities Boulevard vision?
First, it was windy. The tall buildings create a wind canyon effect, enough to blow off my hat several times.
Second, the plants were not all doing great, which contributed to a feeling of neglect. I have seen much worse in a lot of public places, but these are plants at the University of Minnesota, which generally takes better care of public plants than anyone. There were big gaps in areas that were probably supposed to be planted with Karl Foerster feather reed grass, and the chokeberries looked sickly.
The Sorbaria plants seemed to be doing well. Overall, the plants selected for the area are low-maintenance, but not all were succeeding. The pollarded linden and ginkgo trees were interesting. Though I don’t understand how they will ever lend any shade to the area, I can see they need to remain narrow for the passing transit.
There must be a water source out there, but I would speculate that the plants have probably been left to the mercy of rainfall for the last seven or eight years, and last year’s drought would have been hard on them.
Third, the furniture was good, generally. The wooden benches are well-designed, comfortable, and seem to have weathered well in their eight or so years. They were compliant with accessibility guidelines, as far as I could tell.
The tables haven’t fared as well. Their top paint is gone, but they’re still functional and not unattractive. The chairs are mobile, though discreetly tied down, and in better shape than the tabletops, though both tables and chairs will need maintenance soon.
Fourth, the sound level was fine. The passing trains and buses were not distracting or overwhelming. The only unpleasant noise was from an occasional helicopter (welcome to Minneapolis!).
Fifth, it’s a relatively narrow space, compared to what I think the spaces in the Twin Cities Boulevard design look like. With a transit-only lane on each side and no car traffic, that works. For the Twin Cities Boulevard, with multiple traffic lanes and especially with semi trucks in the mix, I think some thought needs to go into what the edges of those public spaces are like.
All in all, I like this middle space on Washington Avenue a lot more than what used to be there (two lanes of car traffic). But I also think it’s a good learning opportunity for landscape architects and planners to think about what needs to change, and how maintenance needs to be done and paid for in large-scale public space projects along the climate-sensitive streets of our future.