Monday, December 11, 2006

Bye, Bye Libeskind - Civic Center Park Will Be Just Fine Without You

Researching material for my current writing project, I've huddled in the Denver Public Library's Western History section, in the "restricted" area of the Western History section digging into primary source documents, doctoral and master's theses, microfilm, and anything else that might provide a clue, a hint where my next studious step should go; a kind of forensic adventure. That aside, I suppose I was not surprised to see the Libeskind rendering of his Civic Center "conceptual vision" sitting there, behind the library staff's counter/work space and just before the entrance to the "restricted" area of the Western History stacks. My first thought upon first seeing the balsa wood model was a sincere appreciation for whoever put the thing together--it's really cute. My next thought was, of course, that grotesque was probably too lean a word to describe the desecration of Civic Center Park the cute little tiny town mock-up represents.

If you're interested, the Western History section of the Denver Public Library is on the 5th floor of the Central Branch at 14th and Broadway.

Mary Voelz Chandler's piece in last Saturday's Rocky Mountain News, "Time to put Libeskind ideas away," reports that:

Three diverse community organizations recently weighed in with opinions opposing the concepts presented last August by Daniel Libeskind for Civic Center.

I was not surprised that the Downtown Denver Partnership's Denver Civic Ventures Board, Capital Hill United Neighborhoods (CHUN), and Interneighborhood Cooperation (INC) all focused on the same two aspects. But I was taken aback that the trio shared a negative opinion in both areas:
Ms. Chandler goes on to explain that those "...two aspects..." these groups found unsavory were content and process.

• Content: That is, the groups oppose the elements Libeskind showed that would change the character of Civic Center.

• Process: The groups think this has been undertaken from the wrong direction, since a private organization (not the city) hired an architect to offer ideas to remake the place. Instead, INC asks that design ideas come from a "public, transparent design competition;" the Partnership calls for "an open, thorough and transparent process," and CHUN wants "a public, transparent design competition."

The three documents sound as if the writers were sitting next to each other that day in class. In fact, half the INC statement is exactly the same as the CHUN position.

The Civic Center Conservancy may have hired Libeskind to devise "inspiration ideas," but by and large, those concepts have sunk like a stone. Sure, they've prompted people to talk about Civic Center and what the city could do to make improvements in our civic core. But even more, these repetitive presentations of Libeskind's ideas for a Civic Center facelift have stirred people to offer their own. I'd call it the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" effect.

For many of us, the answer lies in simplicity when dealing with this exemplary Beaux Arts assemblage:

A: Restore the park's historic elements, do a better job of maintenance and irrigation, boost policing.

B: Do not add a canopy to the Greek Theatre, build a pedestrian bridge, or tear out the green space at the center of Civic Center to put in a large water feature doomed to double as a bathtub and make a dangerous, uneven surface when empty.

If there is one piece people can agree on, it is to find a new, public use (restaurant, cultural center, city museum) for the McNichols Building. That would draw more people into the park without tipping it over into a state many of us fear: a derivative, miniature version of Millennium Park in Chicago.
While Mayor Hickenlooper sticks with his consistent spin that the Libeskind debacle for Civic Center Park got folks thinking about what needs to be done with Denver's "city beautiful" quietly dignified space (my words, not the Hick's), Ms. Chandler observes:

If the city and the conservancy really want us to believe that this exercise has been a tool to get people talking about Civic Center, it worked. Now, let's move on to something more concrete: It is time for the Libeskind "concepts" to be put away. It seems the conservancy agrees. When I asked the conservancy president for a response to the three organizations' negative positions on those concepts, board member Susan Kirk responded.

"The Libeskind design is off the table, so we don't replay it again and again," she said. "It got us what we wanted, but it was never meant to be a legitimate proposal to be looked at. It was a vision of what someone might do. It is off the table. Nobody wants to endorse that vision."

That is good news. Even people who want to make more- than-simple changes in the park haven't been able to warm up to those concepts. Such as Richard Farley, who was among those who presented ideas Wednesday in a Conservancy program on Civic Center. Here's how he explains why Libeskind's proposals are flawed:

"He's tried to solve fundamental things with geometric forms," the architect and urban designer said. "Whether on purpose or inadvertently, (Libeskind) has taken away the ability to do festivals in the park. He's eliminated the center of Civic Center. Fundamentally, it's not a sustainable idea."

What's next? Perhaps the conservancy should now consider raising money to either begin restoration of historic elements in Civic Center, beef up maintenance, or fund a legitimate competition for ideas. That would be a competition with real rules and real goals, in a full, open, transparent manner. The group also might want to lead the lobbying charge if restoration and retrofitting to a more public use of the McNichols Building winds up as part of an infrastructure bond issue.
Ms. Chandler reports that Kim Bailery, Denver's Manager of Parks and Recreation, (the person Mayor Hickenlooper identified as the person who would make the decision on the Civic Center Park reformation/redo/repair/remake/renaissance or whatever you'd like to call it), said:

"My intent from all this is to clearly articulate a substantial understanding of the common ground that has been generated by the public in this important dialogue."
Okay. Not even suggesting here that city folks, from the Mayor on down, were quite giddy with the Libeskind kerplunk of junk into Civic Center Park which, by the way, was initiated by the Civic Center Conservancy, a private group who, with Bailey along for the ride, shelled out $75,000 for the "conceptual vision;" no, not even suggesting that such a non-transparent endeavor by a private group with city folks happily cuddling up to that backroom, closed door process was counterproductive to what should have been a very conspicuous public process. Nope. Won't even go there.

Ms. Chandler ends her piece:
Here's a wish for the new year: Remember that phrase, common ground. Because when it comes to Civic Center, what better way to describe the meaning of a place that belongs to all of us?

1 comment:

Doogman said...

More to the point, let's talk about common WEALTH.

Time is money - the waste of both in this process has been profligacy of legendary proportions.

Let's stop screwing around and get (back?) a REAL architect.