Activating the Southbank

August 14, 2006 1 comment Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Recently put together by UF grad student Aaron Plewke and his girlfriend over a weekend, this project, focusing on the redevelopment of Friendship Fountain and Park was one of the top entries in a local design competition hosted by Emerging Architects.

 The proposal attempts to enhance the connection between the North & Southbanks,  as well as revamp and bring life and activity to Friendship Park. These are  design aspects that the Big Idea attempted to accomplish, but failed miserably because  the plan was  developed in a suburban mindset that did not take into account (our outright  ignored) the urban environment.
 Working within the context of the Downtown Master Plan and with what we already  have, the design concept has three major features:
 1. Bridgewalk
 The Bridgewalk is proposed to enhance the pedestrian connection between the  North and Southbanks. However, instead of reducing lanes as suggested in the  Mayors "Big Ideas" and causing massive  traffic congestion in the process, the walkway would be added to the side of the bridge and provide a direct connection between the Landing and Friendship Park.
 2. Friendship Park
 The proposal calls for the re-configuration of the park to create a more comfortable  setting, incorporating grass, trees, interactive fountains, and even retail space  that could incorporate a small sidewalk café, similar to Au Bon Pain’s new  bakery in Detroit's Campus Martius Park.
 3. Maritime Museum
 The final part of the plan would be to expand the Maritime Museum, creating a high-quality focal point for the park. The now-closed Historical Center,  on the east side of the bridge, would be replaced by a Maritime Memorial Garden,  an intimate public space that would serve as a counterpoint to Friendship Park.
 The goal of this project turns the park into a central focal point of a vibrant  cultural center that would include MOSH, River City Brewing, Friendship  Fountain, an enlarged Maritime Museum, and a new sidewalk café.
 The planning of public spaces in the urban core is more than planting grass and  trees. Two important issues must be properly addressed.
 1. Does this space respect, interact, and fit in with its surroundings?
 2. Will this space attract visitors on a regular basis?
 Aaron Plewke’s plan appears to satisfy both requirements. Instead of having the  “build it and they will come” attitude, the plan respects the surrounding  environment and makes those buildings become focal points. It also has the  potential to attract a diverse range of visitors on a regular basis, because it  incorporates several uses. These include, the river walk, interactive fountains,  museums, restaurants, retail, and both active and passive public areas. Failure  to accurately answer these questions is the reason our current pocket parks are  ignored by the general public.
 Outside of the Bridgewalk, which could be done at a later date considering the  Main Street Bridge already has sidewalks, most of this plan could be easily  implemented. It is well known that the Maritime Museum has a desire to construct a new facility. With them pledging to raise their own funds, not much, if any, would  be needed from the city beyond a long-term land lease (similar to MOSH’s)  for a new building. As far as park & fountain improvements go, $1.2 million from  the Landing parking agreement will be earmarked for fountain improvements and  the Mayor’s Downtown Greening (the park needs plants) Initiative. On top of  that, River City Brewing and MOSH are already in place and additional money  could be raised by issuing an RFP for  the retail/café site.


 While this is just a college student’s design project, it serves as another  example of what can be possible if we simply follow the Downtown Master Plan  created under the Delaney Administration. It also brings life to the Southbank,  in a fashion that does not compete against commercial and entertainment  establishments like the Landing. Instead it complements them by adding to the  diversity of the downtown core. With so much focus being placed on the  renovation of fountain, the surrounding area is being ignored. During the evaluation  and design RFPs, attention  should be paid to expanding the Maritime Museum and working to incorporate what  already exists next door (MOSH & River City Brewing).
 For more information on this idea, visit: