Given the possibility that our beloved local Mason’s building may never see brighter days–it has sat mostly empty for the last decade, after all–Cory and I have been trying to think of outside-the-box ideas for what could stand in its place, should it have to be razed (perish the thought!). Our latest idea: a park.
But not just any park.
This locale could remain the best “outdoor brownie-eating, people-watching, solving-the-world’s-problems spot, right at one of the liveliest corners in town“. With careful planning, it could be a beautful gateway to Madison’s downtown. And just what would make it so distinctive? Architectural elements from the Mason’s building itself. Salvaging things like the front columns and bricks would make it a dream project for any good landscape architect. (Oh, and we just happen to know one young Madison native who has a landscape design degree and a keen interest in sustainability.)
The columns could easily form a stunning park entrance creating what might literally be known as Madison’s front porch. It would be a nod to stately home front porches around town like this one, which Cory and I always refer to as the “White House,” since our good friends Steve and Becky White spent some of their formative years there:
It would connote neighbors getting together for a glass of lemonade (or a DQ Blizzard from right next door!) and a good chat. To enable the most chatting, a landscape architect could design some aesthetically-pleasing sound buffers. There could be great gardens, great spots for picnicking, and maybe even an area for outdoor performances. Think the Queen Bee Mill Ruins at Falls Park in Sioux Falls…only a lot less ruinous.
But that’s just the beginning. The next logical step would be to relocate the farmers market here, although its current location at Library Park is indeed a lovely spot. But imagine the Mason’s corner on a beautiful summer Thursday evening, bustling with locals scanning the best tomatoes from area gardens and farms. Madison musicians (and we have some great ones like Howard Hedger, Perry Killion, Mitch Villhauer, and Mike Lee) could provide outdoor entertainment. Downtown businesses could stay open late and enjoy the increased revenues that come with farmers markets located in the heart of retail areas.
What a useful, beautiful, energizing, productive, and yes, even unexpected spot this could be both for visitors to Madison and its own residents.
Update 8/3/07: More support for why this type of shared space can make Madison a more vibrant place:
New Urbanism makes shared space the organizing element of a community. Architecture physically defines streets as places of shared use. Care for the public realm adds character, builds value, promotes security, and helps residents feel proud of their community. Plazas, squares, sidewalks, cafes, and porches provide rich settings for interaction and public life (source and more about new urbanism here).