Open Space Seattle:2100

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Field and Frame

On November 17th, the Urban Sustainability Forum, which is sponsored by DPD, hosted author and professor Mark Childs as he returned to Seattle. His talk was incredibly engaging and introduced several useful topics about how we might think about open space and move the discussion beyond fixed ways of thinking about our open space system in Seattle.

Public Works versus Infrastructure--Taking the example of the water tower at our own Volunteer Park, Mr. Childs spoke about how this beloved landmark is a iconic public work, rather than simply a piece of infrastructure. What does he mean by this parsing? Infrastructure maximizes one goal, has fixed standards, but often misses opportunities. Public works, by contrast, achieve multiple goals, uses balanced judgment, has higher initial costs and is more designed. Thus the water tower at Volunteer Park achieves multiple goals by being a water tower, a terminus to the axis of Millionaires Row, and is an observation tower.

Frames and Fields--Highlighting the crucial role of squares in the public life of a city, Mr. Childs spoke about the need of both a frame to enclose the public space and a field, the spatial void where the public gathers. Thinking about some of the public space that we have in our city, the most successful are fully enclosed with definite edges (Pike Place and Westlake) while certainly some of the more problematic public spaces have weaker edges (Pioneer Squares and Freeway Park).

Other themes comments that were significant: "the places we make are the habitats for other species;" "simultaneously in the heart of the city and in the middle of nature;" "need for a powerful story that allows people to gather resources around an idea."

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