Monday, January 23, 2006

Hip to be square

Yes, yes, yes: The PG's Patricia Lowry says no to Bob O'Connor's misguided plan to turn Market Square into green space. To wit:

And what, really, would be gained by turning Market Square into a grassy park? It already provides shade trees, a stage and plenty of seating, thanks to the low granite walls that surround three of the four quadrants. Most people don't sit on grass, but it does provide comfortable bedding for vagrants and the homeless, as the edges of Point State Park attest.

The mayor thinks the square has an "old, tired" look. It's supposed to look old; it's historic. Tired? I just don't see it, at least not in the design of the square.

Despite the drug dealing and the bars, which won't go away if the streets are closed, Market Square is one of Downtown's liveliest and most successful public spaces. In the warm months, men play chess there, vendors hawk fruits and vegetables, art students play hacky-sack, bike messengers take their breaks, office workers and culinary students eat their lunches, and the pigeons -- a component of every thriving public square -- couldn't be happier.

You see, Bob O'Connor may be a lifelong city resident, but like many other Pittsburghers who have occupied the corridors of power in this town, he doesn't really understand cities. He doesn't get what makes them work. He has suburb envy.

But how do you know his plan won't work, you ask? Easy. As Lowry notes, we've tried it before.

It's almost never a good idea to close streets to cars where businesses are located, as the failed pedestrian malls of the 1960s in East Liberty, on the North Side and in many other American cities proved. Cars bring people, and people bring their shopping dollars and watchful eyes to the street. Closing Forbes through the square would have the domino effect of turning the blocks adjacent to it, between Stanwix and the square and between Wood and the square, into dead-end streets, making travel by car there difficult and jeopardizing those businesses as well.

Thanks to Rauterkus.


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