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Close to Home: Courthouse Square plan needs a fresh look

  • A unified central plaza creates a quaint sense of community in Sonoma and Healdsburg, and in Santa Rosa many support the reunification of Courthouse Square and rerouting Mendocino Avenue. (PD File)

I was on the Courthouse Square Advisory Committee as an at-large neighborhood representative from 2007-09, and I couldn’t agree more with Press Democrat Editorial Director Paul Gullixson when he writes, “Things are not the same as they were last decade when this idea started to gain momentum” (“Talking in circles on a square,” July 27). Things have changed even more dramatically in the past five years, and there is more to the Courthouse Square reunification plan than the number of side streets and parking spaces that needs further discussion.

We have become a cycling city with hundreds of bikes parked downtown for Wednesday Night Market and various events every week. Even on non-event days, bike racks are full to capacity up and down Fourth Street. Yet the number of bike racks in the square remains critically low at 30.

If the city wants to draw crowds to the square with daily programming, there needs to be more bike racks (and more than five scooter spots). Of course, cyclists could always tether their bikes to the 200 security bollards planned for the perimeter of the square.

There needs to be a discussion about visibility and accessibility. There is a proposed LED “light arbor” hung from 16 40-foot-tall pylons with bases 5-feet wide and 3-feet thick. These monoliths of black metal, placed 30 feet apart, would block lines of sight and are certainly over-built for their function.

As it is, the arbor with its LED lights overhead is already out of date. LED lights can now be strung anywhere, even floating about the ground in a cloud, and programmed to a variety of colors, sounds and movement.

The plan shows the south side of the square blocked by two pavilions and a 70-foot-wide, 20-foot-tall water wall. This wall of opaque glass, which looks similar to a series of thick shower doors, is ubiquitous in shopping malls, outdoor parks and backyards throughout the United States — not to mention that Santa Rosa has proven itself to be very unlucky when it comes to water, with fountains leaking and water elements at Prince Greenway Park and elsewhere closed to the public.

A wall is certainly not a welcoming vista for those traveling north to downtown and provides little access to pedestrians from Third Street. The four pavilions and wooden platforms at each of the four corners block pedestrian movement diagonally across the square. A variety of steps to the wooden platforms, the stone pavers, and the concrete terraces may well inhibit any easy stroll through the square. Watch your step.

I am not surprised that the seven-member selection committee included four architects, as this plan is first and foremost about architecture.

The many massive architectural “statements” in the square allow no room physically or aesthetically for works of art even as Santa Rosa has embarked on a citywide arts master plan initiative. Everything is straight and at right angles.

The plan shows an architecturally hard, cold and, more importantly, inflexible space.

This is not the welcoming “living room” the city would have us envision.

Judy Kennedy is a resident of Santa Rosa.


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