The flower beds are beautiful, but we need green space in the wintertime too
Anchorage is a winter city, but let’s be honest, it’s not typically a picturesque ski-town type of winter city. As a subarctic coastal city, our weather can be sporadic and sometimes unpleasant; we may have rainy days in January followed by sub-zero dusty windstorms, oh and it’s dark, very dark (am I selling it?). We can’t control the weather, but we can control how we deal with seasonal affective disorder, and we can give ourselves places of refuge.
One way I’ve dealt with it in the past is going to visit the Mann Leiser Memorial Greenhouse; there are bright lights, green plants, and koi in the pond. It’s nice to sit inside and listen to the trickle of the water and breathe warm, fresh air on a dreary winter day. If you’ve never visited, you’ll find it to be quaint (it’s attached to an old house) and small, like a miniature interpretation of a conservatory. If you happen to be there with 10 or more people, it will feel even smaller, but you’ll realize the potential for a facility like this on a city scale.
A new master plan for Town Square Park was released last summer. The conceptual models feature flower gardens, places for children to play, and a covered stage for summer concerts. Aside from the tree lighting ceremony and the New Year’s Eve celebration, the design is primarily geared toward summer usage. The plan acknowledges the lack of activity during the shoulder seasons.
Before we commit to spending millions of dollars on the upgrades proposed in the master plan, I think it is important to consider an alternative.
Town Square Park is not only in the center of the downtown CBD, but it’s also in the center of what could be called the Convention District – directly across the street from the Egan Center, next door to the PAC, and one block from the Dena’ina Center. A conservatory building, essentially a massive greenhouse built on the Town Square Park site, could augment existing facilities like the PAC and the Egan Center, which are connected via sky bridge.
The Conservatory is the missing piece of the puzzle in a network of buildings – the PAC and Egan Center. Together, they represent a significant improvement in our ability to attract conventions by revitalizing existing civic assets (Egan Center); the Dena’ina Center is only a block away and linked by the covered, ice-free pedestrian corridor along F Street.
In addition to providing a winter escape, the conservatory offers Alaskans an educational opportunity to experience the rare and exotic plant life of the tropics. It’s also a place for things like engagement photos, first dates, and special events all year-round.
What about all the events we enjoy at Town Square Park?
Delaney Park (the park strip)
If you look at Anchorage’s map, you’ll see Delaney Park is massive; it’s like Anchorage’s version of New York’s Central Park but underutilized. One block wide and nearly a mile long, it has everything Town Square Park doesn’t: a more convenient location and plenty of free parking. There’s wide-open spaces (enough to fly giant kites) and a built environment for simultaneous activities. It’s a very short walk from the downtown CBD (only 3 blocks from Town Square). It is the physical division from where people live and work, making it an ideal location for community events, particularly those currently hosted at Town Square.
The “Live After Five” concert series would be better at Delaney Park, there’s more sun, better parking (not everyone works downtown), significantly less traffic noise with ample space to build a permanent amphitheater that has the capacity for large crowds, which is something that should be on our wishlist.
The winter events that have historically been at Town Square would be even better at Delaney Park; there’s an actual ice rink and plenty of open space for expanded events for a growing population. The quieter streets offer less hazardous traffic conditions for pedestrians and sleigh/carriage rides.