If you want to talk about common problems in American cities, the conversation can go lots of places. One oft overlooked topic is that of urban design and the important role it plays in city functions. Specifically, the ambiguity of plazas and spaces used by the public but created and operated by private entities often irks the most astute urban designers and landscape architects. These exist all over the American city landscape, usually built as a tradeoff between a municipality and a developer in which the city allows the developer to increase their building height or massing in exchange for some public space. Traditionally, it's been a 'give a little, take a little' mechanism used by cities to encourage a healthy public realm in the parts of town typically surrounded by canyons of inhumanely tall buildings.
But due to poor designs and a lack of oversight, many of these 'public' spaces have become ambiguous in nature, unclear as to who can use them and when. Outside of the 9-5 work crowd, many of these spaces are left vacant, underutilized and unsafe. Goodbye healthy public realm; hello faster paces from 'A' to 'B', nefarious characters and shifty eyes.
Thankfully, as is the case in cities across the country, with more and more residents living downtown, there is an increased pressure to utilize these spaces in clearer, more definitive ways for the public good.
In Philadelphia, Thomas Properties Group, Inc.
gets this, recently finishing a complete overhaul of their ambiguous plaza at Commerce Courtyard
along the north side of the 2000 block of Market Street
in Center City.
Officially open now, the one acre courtyard is noticeably different and more inviting than its previous design. According to Joseph McManus, Senior Vice President of Leasing with Thomas Realty Partners, the goal of the new and improved plaza is simple: make Commerce Square even more competitive in the office market, yes, but also erase the space's ambiguity and create a great public space for tenants and area residents to enjoy.
McManus says a lot of the renovation's funding went towards improvements you can't see: infrastructural upgrades such as waterproofing the 575-space parking structure below the plaza and retooling the central fountain. Therefore, the space's more prominent improvements, notably the improved seating options, umbrellas, landscaping and a 25-foot by 25-foot, programmed media wall, are what make the space look and feel more public.
Connecting the space to Market Street was seen as a must to McManus and his team in order to draw people in from the street, frequent the bars and restaurants lining the plaza's edge and create that sense of place people look for in a public space. To that end, two 47-foot pylons now stand at the plaza's intersection with the Market Street sidewalk, creating a gateway to the Courtyard. Also added are Market Street sidewalk café seating outside the eateries.
McManus explains that they are currently working with the restaurants to stay open later and have attracted the Chicago-based restaurant Townhouse Kitchen & Bar
to occupy the courtyard's northwest retail space. Also coming soon are potential programmed events and utilization of the media screen for special events.
But McManus and his team are hoping the space can become known for what makes public spaces truly public: informal activities that encourage people to make the space their own. Ultimately, this will be the true test of Commerce Square's Courtyard success and allow it to earn a more distinguished place in Philly's Center City public space hierarchy. Source
: Joseph McManus, Senior Vice President - Leasing, Thomas Realty Partners LLCWriter
: Greg Meckstroth