The New York noon profit Project for Public Places (PPS) has one mission: improve the often loveless and sad public spaces and turn them into places.
The areas around the Transamerica Tower, Baltimore's tallest building (once called the USF&G Tower) were conceived as mere setbacks from the street, partially elevated above a underground garage, a space to emphasize the tower for drivers whisking by on Pratt Street but not a space to walk and stroll. People walking diagonally across, on their way from Charles Street to Harborplace, for example, know the place as windswept and without any reason to slow down. Recent upgrades by the tower owner did little to change that.
The Downtown Partnership (DPoB) has set their eyes on making Pratt Street that grand urban boulevard it could be and developed a masterplan for it. That huge space between the tower's south side and the curb is a part of the envisioned conversion. And as DPoB they did on Center Plaza, they have asked PPS for advice.
With a small grant from Southwest Airlines, lately also in the business of sprucing up the cities in which they have a major airport presence, a design has been prepared and presented yesterday that is more to be thought of as "pop up" and a demonstration of possibilities than as a permanent fix.
While some may find this private and corporate influence on the design of public spaces worrisome, however, it is the only game in (down)town when it comes to improvements of public space in a time of diminished government.
Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
In 1988 the author worked on a plaza revitalization plan around the USFG Tower as part of an assignment by Cho Wilks and Benn architects who looked at a number of public open space improvements at the time. He also worked in an advisory function with DPoB in the early stages of the Pratt Street improvement planning phase.
From a June 2014 DPoB Press release:
From a June 2014 DPoB Press release:
Downtown Partnership of Baltimore announced today the award of a grant from Southwest Airlines to transform the pedestrian thoroughfare at Pratt and Light Plaza into a vibrant, everyday gathering place for the community. The revitalization and activation of this public space will mark the latest major improvement to Pratt Street, the most heavily-used pedestrian street in Baltimore and the city’s face to the world. This project complements broader efforts to improve Downtown Baltimore through enhancing streets, sidewalks, parks and plazas. This is the first of Southwest Airlines’ nationwide Heart of the Community grants to be announced for 2014; the Heart of the Community program, in partnership with Project for Public Spaces, supports and revitalizes public spaces in the hearts of cities nationwide.The vision for the new public space will be created in partnership with the local community through Placemaking – a movement and process rooted in community-based participation that involves the planning, design, management and programming of public spaces and capitalizes on a community’s assets and potential to create vibrant destinations. Project for Public Spaces, the pioneering nonprofit organization behind Placemaking, will facilitate a series of workshops and events with the community to develop the vision for the new public space. Once this vision has been developed, PPS will partner with Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and Southwest Airlines to implement new physical amenities, installations, programming and activities that will further activate and enhance Pratt and Light Plaza.“Southwest Airlines believes that vibrant public spaces connect people and strengthen local communities,” said Megan Wood, Senior Manager of Community Outreach at Southwest Airlines. “We have served Baltimore for more than 20 years and it is one of our largest operations, so we are excited to strengthen our ties with the community and support the efforts to activate this new plaza in such an important location.”The activation of Pratt and Light Plaza continues the work of the Pratt Street Redesign Plan, a master plan developed by Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, in conjunction with the City of Baltimore, to transform this important thoroughfare designed for vehicles into a world-class urban boulevard designed for the community.