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Protect open space feeling with proper design

Posted Tuesday, June 21, 2005 - 10:20 am


By Durant Ashmore
GUEST COLUMNIST
durantashmore@aol.com



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Design matters.

It makes a difference in the overall feeling one has upon entering or viewing any setting. Poor design can lead to a jarring sense of dissonance; good design can lead to pleasing and soothing effects. In some cases these effects are distinct, in other cases they are subtle.

In any case there is one constant principle that prevails: Design matters.

One of the easiest ways to illuminate methods of good design is to point out examples of bad design. One such bad example exists in the heart of downtown Simpsonville. This example is in a highly visible location for everyone to see. Indeed, the high visibility of this setting compels the writer to decry the example portrayed here lest others feel that this particular design approach is worthy of being emulated.

The site in question is the 1 -acre open space between the Veterans Memorial and the Clock Tower planting in downtown Simpsonville. In past columns the Veterans Memorial landscape planting has been touted as the finest example of public landscape design in the Golden Strip. The landscape design here emphasizes and complements the memorial dedicated to our soldiers from the last four wars.

Also in past columns, the Clock Tower planting has been criticized as not being appropriate for a historic Piedmont setting, as the heart of downtown Simpsonville truly is. The Clock Tower planting sets a tone that is more reminiscent of Myrtle Beach than the Golden Strip, particularly with the use of the faddish grasses.

The large open space located between the Veterans Memorial and the Clock Tower planting had the potential of being a real bonus for the city of Simpsonville. Open space in urban settings has a tremendous degree of desirability.

Not to confuse Simpsonville with New York City, but as an example Central Park provides an excellent illustration of the advantages of open space in a city setting. Open space offers breathing room and a chance to settle down from the hustle and bustle of busy urban life. Urban open space offers an oasis. The open space bordered by the Veterans Memorial, the railroad track and busy Southeast Main Street had the opportunity to provide just such an oasis to Simpsonville.

Unfortunately, the city has been left with a snake-like design that cuts in half and renders useless the very object that would have provided a real bonus to the urban setting.

Openness in and of itself provides many advantages. Keeping an open area in this space should have been an overriding design consideration. Tree plantings are great for this area. A brick walkway is great for this area. The key here is that tree plantings and brick walkways should serve to define and enhance the open area, not destroy it.

By keeping an open area in this spot the uses for it become much more widespread. It would make an excellent area for a weekend arts festival. It could be used for concerts. It could contain spillover crowds from the Veterans Memorial. It could be used for a place to throw a Frisbee or a place for parents to practice soccer with their kids. With a little imagination it is easy to think of all sorts of uses an open space provides in an urban setting.

With these considerations in mind it disappointing to see the design that was implemented on this nice open spot in the heart of downtown Simpsonville. What would be even worse would be if some misguided soul were to think that this is the appropriate way to approach landscape design. The design as implemented is the perfect example of what not to do when dealing with an open space.

A brick walkway is a desirable feature for this setting. However, the walkway as installed is entirely too curvy. If Simpsonville were a seaport it would appear as if this walkway were designed by a drunken sailor. The tree and shrub plantings are a perfect example of a "thingy" landscape. There is one thing here, there is one thing there. They free float in space and are unconnected except by the dizzying walkway. These features, and the decision to bisect the best part of the whole setting, constitute the entire design.

Please do not attempt this at home. Just because you saw this design in a public setting do not get the idea that this is the right way to do things. Preserve your open space. In your front yard have the lawn lead the eye of the viewer toward the focal point (usually the front door). In your back yard keep your space open for child's play (or breathing room for yourself). Border, enhance and embellish your open space.

Above all, preserve it. It is becoming a rare commodity these days.

Editor's note: Columnist Durant Ashmore, MLA, of Fountain Inn, is certified by the South Carolina Nursery Association. He can be reached at 243-3446 or at durantashmore@aol.com.

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