Archive | Harrison Square

Why the public hates publicly funded art

(Jon) If public art has the power like no other to “brand” a city — think of the Eiffel Tower and the Gateway Arch — then why is the public so often against the expenditure?

Dan on Cyburbia thinks it may be the style of art that’s been typically commissioned in the last half of the 20th century:

“Since about the late-mid 20th century a popular form of public art has emerged that I will call ‘amorphism’ that can be found in cities all over the world. It’s difficult to describe, but much like pr0n, you know it when you see it.

“Given that most people prefer their art to have form why have so many formless works been selected/commissioned? Do various governments have a desire to appear cutting edge/avant garde/futuristic and feel the art helps convey that impression? How are most selection committees formed?”

To bring the issue to Fort Wayne: Could much of the disagreement with Harrison Square have to do with distrust of the city’s ability to build something iconic?

I am thinking of the “amorphic” red steel artwork beside the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, the name of which escapes me. (Could someone could post a name and even better a link to a photo?) I heard stories that when it was reported the structure was sinking into the ground, a radio station encouraged listeners to drape their bodies all over it, to hasten its sinking?

On the other hand, I’m also reminded of our beautiful Allen County Courthouse, one of the best example of beautiful and functional public art anywhere. What was the spirit of those hardy Fort Waynians, and can it be recaptured?

Please comment here, but also take a minute to read the Cyburbia post and view the great examples.

Author’s photo on Flickr


Harrison Square news

I don’t know what reader of The Good City wouldn’t also be a reader of the Downtown Fort Wayne Baseball blog, but just in case …

The guys at DFWB are all over the developments surrounding Harrison Square. I’m just going to point you to their blog and say, read up about

  • the Harrison Square groundbreaking
  • the condos going on sale Friday
  • the bridge across Harrison Street getting approved
  • the construction webcam going live

and lots of other news.

And although I previously stated a strong opinion against the sky bridge, I at least appreciate some of the steps the planners are taking to not damage the Indiana Hotel beyond repair.

– Jon Swerens


How not to fix your city

Richard Florida of “creative class” fame links to The Where Blog, where Brendan Crain looks at five common mistakes made by businesses looking to be innovators. Crain then turns around and applies these myths to how we go about fixing cities.

Below are the five “innovation myths” with an excerpt of Crain’s comments, applying them to cities. All of these are related to the myth of the silver bullet — one shining project that will rescue the business, or city:

• Over-reliance on high-profile, “sexy” projects

Big projects can be important to cities, but it’s even more important to pay close attention to what trade-offs will need to be made in terms of basic services (transit ain’t the only thing hurtin’ in Chicago) in order to pull off a good piece of stunt urbanism. Millennium Park is an innovative piece of landscape architecture, but as an urban regenerator it’s as archaic as they come.

• Unhealthy fascination with unique, charismatic civic leaders

… (I)t is important to remember that the best and most innovative mayors from the past … were willing to take risks; that is to say that great mayors have often made names for themselves by bucking trends and trying new ideas that were responsive to their specific cities than following standard procedures being cut-and-pasted into other cities.

• Misapplication of other cities’ approaches

… (I)t is often assumed that because Idea X worked in City Y, it will be equally successful in City Z. This is absurd. … The misapplication of this lesson would be for a flat city to assume that building a cable car would be a good idea since it worked in Medellín (pictured).

• Descent into a cycle of self-recrimination

Untold energy is put into trying to make the city cooler and more attractive to young people. Meanwhile, (Pittsburgh’s) draconian tax system that discourages start-ups … go unchanged because Pittsburgh fails to realize that music festivals and extensive bike paths aren’t going to save them.

• Resignation to superficial changes

Cities have a long and storied history of believing in the power of cosmetic changes only to be let down by the results. A phenomenon that you might call Trinket Urbanism had a death grip on North American cities until relatively recently as every city rushed to have their version of one-off amenities built in other cities.

Most Harrison Square supporters seem to already realize that even if successful, Harrison Square is no “silver bullet.” That’s good, and I really hope for its success.

But the way to retain young business people can be as simple as making it easy to start a small business.

– Jon Swerens · Photo by (sean) on Flickr 


4 reasons to not bust a gaping hole into a historic theater

Embassy TheatreForget about building a downtown aquarium. Fort Wayne wants to build a suspended, over-the-street, glass-boxed, out-of-town-visitorium.

In an effort to prevent convention goers from ever having to walk on an actual sidewalk, the folks building Harrison Square downtown want to carve a hole into the west side of the historic Embassy Theatre (actually, that side of the building contains the old Indiana Hotel) and build a pedestrian walkway across a two-lane street.

In today’s News-Sentinel, columnist Kevin Leininger applauds the plan:

… the city is considering several incentives in exchange for the Embassy’s willingness to give up most of its third floor for a walkway that would allow visitors to travel indoors from the new hotel at Harrison Street and Jefferson Boulevard, across Harrison though the Indiana Hotel, to the Grand Wayne Convention Center — which is linked to the Embassy by another walkway over Jefferson.

Before we rent the reciprocating saws, let’s consider some possible drawbacks to busting a hole in the side of the Embassy:

  • You’d be busting a hole in the side of the Embassy. You can’t undo this kind of destruction. Will future generations wonder what kinds of dopes we were for saving such a beautiful structure from destruction, only to ram a makeshift shiv into its side? While we’re at it, should we build a walkway from the Lincoln Tower to the courthouse so the lawyers won’t get wet in the rain?
  • You wouldn’t really be helping visitors that much. As visitors walk over two-lane Harrison Street, they’ll be kicking themselves as they realize it would have been faster for them just to use the crosswalk.
  • You’d be using the proximity of the historic Embassy for your own downtown goals. The Embassy doesn’t get any real boost for becoming a conventioneers’ bypass — except for some cash, of course.
  • You’d be telling visitors that there’s nothing interesting about a Fort Wayne sidewalk. Aren’t there going to be shops along Jefferson Boulevard as a part of Harrison Square? Wouldn’t we like visitors to actually walk past them?

The pressure on the Embassy board is tremendous. Kevin again:

If (Embassy) board members zealously protect every last inch of the historic building’s interior and brick-and-terra cotta facade, they risk jeopardizing a project that could bring hundreds of thousands of people downtown every year — potentially benefiting both the theater and prospects for the Indiana Hotel’s redevelopment.

Putting the weight of Harrison Square on a walkway through a historic building is suspicious and unfair. People won’t come to Fort Wayne if they have to cross a street? Don’t people have to cross streets in other, more successful downtowns? Doesn’t the success of our own outdoor Jefferson Pointe prove that people enjoy walking and shopping outside?

Once the concrete cutters touch the side of the Embassy, we can never go back. We must consider some alternatives before we mar the face of downtown’s most precious jewel.

– Jon Swerens

NOTE: Photo credit: The News-Sentinel, crudely Photoshopped by Jon. (Apologies for forgetting this before.)


Big zoning proposals for downtown

The gentlemen of the Downtown Fort Wayne Baseball blog are surprised by how little the city has promoted Monday’s Plan Commission meeting which will feature a public hearing on zoning changes west of Harrison Square.

If they hadn’t heard about it, then nobody has.

I may have more questions about the plan myself later, but for now, I will just quote a couple of well-said paragraphs from DFWB:

It is unfortunate that this plan seems to be flying under the radar, coasting right through to a public hearing that most are not even aware of. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad plan, because it’s not, but discussion and discourse should always be encouraged when such notable changes are on the table.

Why were the particular zoning changes decided upon? Do the houses in the proposed historic designation area merit designation? Why are other houses around it not having the same designation proposed? Why not expand the use of the CM5 zoning designation, which more easily allows for mixed-use development?

These are just a few questions that could be asked. The overriding question is “why would these particular changes be the best option?”

The city has an embarrassing habit of appearing to want to slide such changes under the door by technically following the law but not really going out of its way to seek a lot of contrary public input. Good plans can only be improved by opposition pointing out weaknesses.

Those who care about downtown are encouraged to attend Monday’s meeting. For more details, go to the Downtown Fort Wayne Baseball blog’s post.

– Jon Swerens 


Hip to be (Harrison) Square

This is a repost from Jon Swerens’ blog.

Is a city-supported downtown baseball stadium and retail complex a good idea for Fort Wayne? Discussion about the proposed Harrison Square may be a moot point, with papers being drawn up and demolition in full swing, but still, the sides remain at loggerheads.

Opponents have been painted as cranky old conservatives. Supporters are portrayed as young optimistic professionals.

But the youngsters have a seemingly unlikely opponent in Richard Florida.

Florida is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and the author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” a best-selling book that studies the 38 million Americans he calls creatives: artists, scientists, musicians, architects and other such people. If anyone is in favor of attracting young creative professionals to cities, it’d be Prof Florida.

In his book, he’s critical of most cities’ efforts:

It’s not that these cities do not want to grow or encourage high-tech industries. In most cases, their leaders are doing everything they think they can to spur innovation and high-tech growth. But most of the time, they either can’t or won’t do the things required to create an environment or habitat that is attractive to the Creative Class.

Sounds like something any young creative person in Fort Wayne might say. But then Florida goes in a somewhat unexpected direction:

They pay lip service to the need to attract talent, but continue to pour resources into underwriting big-box retailers, subsidizing downtown malls, recruiting call centers and squandering precious taxpayer dollars on extravagant stadium complexes. (emphasis mine)


The most recent studies show that stadiums do not generate economic wealth and actually reduce local incomes.

Now, before I get flamed in the comments, I realize the differences in Harrison Square’s tax structure and private investment. But we can set that aside, because one big argument for building this stadium is supposed to be to attract and retain the young professional.

Florida begs to differ:

Not once during any of my focus groups and interviews did any member of the Creative Class mention professional sports as playing a role of any sort in their choice of where to live and work.

So why try to build stadiums?

The answer is simple. These cities are stuck in the past.

So Florida may very well call Harrison Square a step into the past, not the future.

I hope for great success for Harrison Square, despite Florida’s gloominess. But it is disingenous of Harrison Square supporters to be so cocky and dismissive of opponents as old stuck-in-the-muds. The very inventor of the term “creative class” may be the biggest critic of all.

– Jon Swerens