Anytime we create more space for people and not cars, I get excited.
That’s why I am absolutely thrilled that the Rotary Club of Traverse City will commemorate its 100th anniversary by investing in a downtown Traverse City civic square.
A $1 million grant from Rotary Charities will allow city planners to transform a surface parking lot into a much-needed and centrally located public space that could host community and cultural events, an ice skating rink, a farmers market, and more.
Rotary Charities, a public foundation created by the Rotary Club of Traverse City, has contributed nearly $60 million in grants to groups around the region since 1977. This latest dose of funding for a public square is one of several key investments in downtown that Rotary Charities has made during the past several decades; others include capital for the Park Place Hotel, the State Theatre, and Northwestern Michigan College’s Great Lakes Campus, to name a few.
Pursuing a long-held dream
Decades ago, local planners recognized that, while Traverse City boasts high-quality public open spaces along the bay, downtown has always lacked a true civic square. For a location, planners identified the parking lot on the northeast corner of Cass and State Streets, behind the former Milliken’s department store.
Good downtown squares are usually found surrounded by two- to five-story buildings. The surrounding buildings give people the feeling of an “outdoor room." Their windows provide "eyes on space," which makes people feel safer. And well-designed urban squares both amplify and contain sound better than larger open spaces. The buildings would also provide shade in the summer and block wind in the winter, when the space is used for ice skating.
If you've been in the great cities of Europe or other places around the world, you probably stumbled across public squares with similar features. In the Midwest, they can be found in Detroit’s Campus Martius Park, Grand Rapids’ Rosa Parks Circle, and Pittsburgh’s Market Square.
Strengthening neighborly connections
A good civic square connects the community. Families gather for outdoor concerts, kids learn hockey or figure skating, employees meet there for lunch, and groups gather to discuss or debate issues. Those activities and the lifelong relationships they create—among children and adults—form the fabric of our community. A civic square is a space where democracy is preserved.
Not all downtown civic squares are successful. Traverse City’s needs to be done right. Fred Kent, one of the more popular experts on public spaces, could help. His organization, the Project for Public Spaces, knows which ingredients make civic spaces successful. Check out the section of the organization’s website that’s dedicated to city squares.
I can't wait: More downtown spaces for people, not cars.