Shoulda Been Done Yesterday

Some ideas have been around for years, but for some reason — difficulty, expense, lack of City Council commitment or because they sound so darn bureaucratic — haven’t been embraced.

It’s simply wrong that the city hasn’t moved forward on these fronts, respondents said.

  Pocket parks, green corners

The biggest no-brainer of the bunch, our folks said. Red hot Columbia needs more parks, more trees and more greenery.

From Robert Squirewell, Benedict College booster club president and former trustee: “If you narrow the streets, free space can be utilized to create ‘green corners’ — highly visible gathering places with beautiful landscaping and seating. Develop ‘pocket parks’ throughout downtown. Squares like at the art museum and the First Citizens plaza? Fill them with sculptures and greenery. (And) I wonder if anyone has thought about topiary.”

From architect Tom Savory of Watson Tate Savory: “Shade trees with big canopies!!”

  Sustainable buildings, ‘greener’ downtown

Several in the group (particularly the planners and architects) urged immediate, citywide adoption of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) “green” building standards.

From Savory, whose firm’s renovated Washington Street office is downtown’s first LEED-certified building: “(Adopt) tax incentives and zoning restrictions — carrots and sticks — ... for all new construction and phased in for existing buildings.”

  Establish and follow design guidelines

Some developers complain that design guidelines — for buildings’ appearance and situation on a site — drive up the cost of building or renovating.

But many residents, shop owners and business people hail the guidelines and the city board that oversees them (the Design, Development Review Commission) as a profound blessing. They cover downtown’s most coveted and successful areas: historic in-town neighborhoods, the Vista and Devine Street. And guidelines are in the works for Five Points.

From Doug Quackenbush, of Quackenbush Architects and Planners: “Design guidelines, properly written and administered, are key to defining a city’s memorable identity and character. Most architects are not threatened by these requirements. ... Design guidelines do, however, tend to limit prototypical, generic commercial development.”

And from Savory: “The tools for (on-street, high-quality, commercial) growth are already in our design guidelines and must be consistently enforced. The notion that it is more expensive to design buildings that adhere to sound urban design principals, with respect to pedestrian scale, materials and commercial storefront, is a fallacy ... As Greenville, Charleston, Charlotte and Chattanooga have found, city property becomes increasingly attractive to investors as the overall fabric of the built environment improves.”

  Connect the districts

Downtown Greenville has Main Street. That’s it, nice as it is.

Columbia has the Vista, Five Points, Main Street, the “West Bank,” Devine Street and Rosewood Drive for a drink, a bite or some shopping. Problem is, many people don’t see the whole. Our group said the city must bind these districts through marketing, signage, transportation and walkways.

It’s called “connect the dots.”

From Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp.: “We must connect our recent streetscape projects, like Lady to Main Street, Lady to Assembly along Gadsden, and Senate to Gervais along Park.”

From Robin Waites, executive director of the Historic Columbia Foundation: “Signage could establish tours throughout the city, directing folks along thematic routes or trails: early Columbia, Civil War, Civil Rights, churches, etc. But, for it to be successful, the city must establish walking and biking paths that are safe, cool and have enough amenities along the way to make them entertaining and interesting.”

City Club and Congaree Park developer Wade Caughman reminds us that Columbia and the “West Bank,” the river-hugging parts of Cayce and West Columbia, are all the same city. “Stevie Wonder could see this. ... If someone lives in Columbia, they will go to shop or to an event in Five Points or downtown or the ‘West Bank.’ And vice versa. We HAVE to work together.”

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