The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

If you spend any time in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, you've probably caught sight of Williams Park, aka Bum Central. Despite not being on a waterfront, its proximity to City Hall makes it, in a way, St. Pete's signature park. City leaders are trying to figure out how to make the park an appealing destination once again, without totally doing in the homeless people who hang out there.

I've had occasion to walk in and around Williams Park a lot lately; my office is located in the heart of downtown. It's really not as foreboding as it appears to be. The bums and weirdos are fairly thick in the area, but for the most part, they leave you alone if you leave them alone. I've rarely ever been hit up for a handout--I'm not sure if this indicates I'm not prosperous-looking enough to bother with, or if I just give off an unwelcoming aura. (In any case, I make it a point to not carry any pocket change, and little or no cash, so I can truthfully say I don't have anything to give out.)

It does appear to me that the imminent move-in of St. Petersburg College's downtown branch will turn Williams Park into a sort of de facto student commons area, which will be nice.

However, the one thing that strikes me--and I'm no city or parks planner--is that there seems to be too much paved terrain within Williams Park to make it as functional as city leaders would like. Although the park takes up an entire city block, it's really not that big, and the amount of sidewalks that crisscross it, along with the sizable band shell on the north side, makes it seem that much smaller. There's a good bit of green space (lawns and trees), but there doesn't seem to be any significant expanse of it where you could really lay out, have a picnic, or organize a friendly football game on it. I think the city should consider a new layout for the park, cutting down on the sidewalk area by 50 percent. The more uninterrupted grassy area and landscaping you have, the more attractive the park will be. Plus, less paved areas will probably give the bums less places to hang out.