A once-a-month repurposing of Main Street as a pedestrian-only park.
In The Simplest Tool for Improving Cities Is Also Free, Sara Hendren makes the case for rethinking and reusing social amenities, starting with the story of Riverbend Park in Cambridge Massachusetts:
For decades, a stretch of Memorial Drive here that runs along the Charles River has been closed to automobiles on Sundays for the warmer half of the year. In the absence of cars on a four-lane thoroughfare beside the water, all kinds of other street uses blossom: skateboards, bicycles, hoverboards, strollers, wheelchairs and walkers, people on feet and on wheels now moving slowly enough to witness the late spring goslings, the ever-present sea gulls or the rarer magic and grace of a heron feeding along the water’s edge. A towering line of stately, centenarian sycamores forms an unbroken canopy over several blocks.
This section of Memorial Drive is formally called “Riverbend Park” during its weekend closures, but it’s not a park in any physical, structural sense. It’s an open public space transformed into a park without any construction. State park employees arrive in trucks in the morning and again in the evening at junctures in the road, placing gates, cones, and signs that cut off traffic. By dusk, the gates disappear, and traffic returns. That’s it — a park that is “found” from what’s already there.
It happens in cities everywhere: design, or redesign, created by time. A weekend clock turns an open street into something else entirely — a time structure organized outside commuter efficiency or traffic flows. Urban planners sometimes call it “temporal zoning.”
In 2020 and 2021, in response to the need for outdoor recreation during the pandemic, the city of Cambridge added Saturday hours for Riverbend Park, doubling its recreational time. Two luxurious weekend days of an open street from April to November — a provisional state of the built environment, like hundreds of other pandemic-led pilot projects happening right now all over the world. Each of these urban innovations carries with it a question: Can this last? Should it?
As cities across the world open up, urban planners and architects — and the rest of us — are looking around, asking whether our streets and buildings will be, or should be, the same again. But whatever we decide, there’s one transformational tool for building the cities that’s right in front of us, calling for more sustained attention: the design of time. We can creatively reorganize our collective hours and days in ways that help more people enjoy our cities and institutions. Time might be our most valuable resource for building the environments we want.
Here, in Beacon, we should employ that idea of 'temporal zoning' in the most obvious place: Main Street. I propose that we create Second-Saturday Park on Main Street each on the second Saturday of every month from April to November, closing the street to cars and trucks (except for a 10 mph bus service).
The basic idea would be this, in its final manifestation, which would likely take years to accomplish.
Close Main Street to vehicular traffic at the west end at South Ave, directing incoming traffic from 9D off Main, with signs directing visitors to the parking lot at the Dutchess County Center (DMV), and the parking lots on Henry.
Close Main Street at the east end of town by directing incoming traffic from Rte 52 away from Main St at the intersection of Blackburn and Herbert streets and on East Main Street at Fountain Square.
Major cross streets would remain in use, such as Rte 52 (Fishkill Ave/Teller), but vehicles would not be able to turn onto Main St in either direction.
Other streets would be blocked where they enter Main Street by police barriers.
Yes, the surrounding neighborhoods would experience higher levels of traffic and parking, but that could be offset by the benefits of experiencing a Main Street with no cars or trucks, an open space for people to talk and congregate, an opportunity to set up food stalls, hold an art fair, experience live music, ride bikes, and enjoy all the amenities that Beacon offers.
There are a million details -- porta-potties, businesses informing their suppliers to skip deliveries on that day, deciding who gets to do what in the Second-Saturday Park, volunteers to help visitors -- but these are on a scale that's similar to what the City has done in the past for parades, and the antique auto show.
[Update 2022-09-12] Also, it would be reasonable to build up to the full Second Saturday Park vision, starting with a smaller region of Main Street — such as from Willow to Veterans Place, or from Schenck to Churchill — and to move it around from month to month. And we could start with every second month, as another way to scale the experience.
In the past, I would have said that this is the sort of activity that Beacon Arts should take on since that group started the idea of Second Saturday. But Beacon Arts has been very quiet in the last year. A visit to the website to check on the events calendar leads to this:
Following the lead of Riverbend Park in Cambridge, perhaps the starting point would be forming a working group of people that would like to see Second-Saturday Park happen, and start with that. Or perhaps the Mayor and City Council could form a committee to see this comes together?
It seems fitting to begin to consider a new temporal zoning of Main Street as a once-a-month park after a year where Main Street was sadly underused. And, of course, the parklettes and alternative use of sidewalks for restaurants and stores have shown us that the Main Street of tomorrow doesn't have to be the same as in the beforetime.
We can move ahead and make Beacon a better place to live and work, with more to offer than before.