Pynchon Plaza: A public space in Springfield intended to facilitate pedestrian movement between the political center of downtown, Court Square, and the “Quadrangle”, the cultural heart of the city. Between the two is Dwight Street, easily the ugliest and least pedestrian friendly of downtown Springfield’s north/south corridors. The two are also separated by elevation, so the point of the “plaza” is to create a vertical shortcut between the two lovely public spaces.
*They very existence of this plaza demonstrates awareness that the key to a lively city is encouraging foot traffic. It shortens the distance from the Quadrangle to Court Square by at least a city block and shows the intent to make that walk much more pleasurable.
*At both the top and bottom entrance to the plaza a pedestrian enters this public space merely by walking by it: The sidewalk is part of the space.
*The designer acknowledges the traditional male and female design elements by turning the elevator tower into something akin to an obelisk and placing a reflecting pool near its base.
*The terminating vista which the plaza occupies looking down Court Street from the Municipal Group is an important one, and the dramatic design of the plaza lives up to it.
* A pedestrian can’t see “through” the park because the stairs take a sudden extreme turn into a cavernous hidden space beneath a walkway to the elevator above. This design flaw understandably limits the use of the plaza for its primary purpose as people are fearful of this hidden zone.
*The giant “water wall” which was the centerpiece of the plaza as designed IS impressive when operating, (My niece called it “the ocean”) but it is so costly to run and maintain the giant pumps required for the waterfall that it is almost never working AND it is the reason the stairway cannot simply continue in a straight line.
*As with the waterwall, the elevator may seem like a wonderful idea, but the cost to maintain an outdoor elevator with unlimited public access is such that it is almost a guarantee that it will rarely be operational. The entrance at the upper level is around another blind corner and was certainly used more often as a urinal than as a landing.
What to do?
The entire plaza does not need to be rebuilt. Extending the stairway straight up and over the empty wall of water while terracing and walling off the old stairwell will make the plaza finally fulfill its primary function. Pedestrians will have a 100% view from above and below of their route through the plaza.
To make through travelers even more comfortable, the plaza should seek to attract people as a destination in and of itself. Taking the inactive space of the reflecting pool and converting it into a sprayground will attract neighborhood children and their parents. Awareness of those “eyes” within the park will increase both the perception of security and actual security.
Encouraging a food vendor from the neighboring block to set up a cart, or even taking the vacant retail space on the southwest corner and encouraging a restaurant/café to utilize the small terrace which abuts it, could also give the plaza a more consistent human presence.
The waterwall should be replaced with a more realistically scaled water feature; perhaps a wall of mist cascading beneath the now straightened stairway.
If simply gutting the tower and removing the elevator is not possible due to ADA restrictions, then spending as little as possible to bring the elevator up to code is in order. It would not only be money wasted, the money for constant costly maintenance simply isn’t there, but it will also degrade the entire upper entrance to the park as not closing off the blind landing will ensure its continued use as a bathroom.