Paving the Plaza won't discourage the homeless

At 8 a.m. Friday, the remaining trees in Ashland's Plaza will be removed as part of a complete redesign of the Plaza. The Preserve Ashland's Historic Plaza Facebook page has been informing local residents about this issue for months, including how the complete redesign is an effort to remove the homeless from the Plaza. If you google "do concrete plazas discourage the homeless," the PAHP FB page comes up sixth in the list of search results. Here's the company we keep:

In San Francisco, a push for public benches — to discourage the homeless

"Because San Francisco has been unwilling to deal with homelessness in a serious way, we have instead removed public seating from virtually the entire city," said Gabriel Metcalf, the executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, an urban policy research group. "It's such a sad statement and it makes the city that much less livable for everyone."

If decades of paving and removing concrete has made that city less liveable, the same result is likely for Ashland.

For the entire article, see:

From an article "Redeveloping Hemming Plaza" in Metro Jacksonville (Florida):

"It appears that the recommendations fail to properly address the desires indicated in the public survey. Instead the recommendations tend to focus on finding ways to rid the park of its existing users. ... Without the addition of amenities and programming to attract a more diverse population, many of the suggested recommendations may not result in the development of a vibrant public space.

"Despite the survey suggesting that removing benches is the least of the public's concerns ... $74,500 has been recommended to do just that. ... it seems highly questionable to invest nearly $275,000 into the space to only shut it down for a complete makeover by January 2013.

"In addition, the ... plan calls for the complete reconstruction of the park, which will eliminate its tree canopy at a cost of $649,620 to taxpayers. Quite frankly, the plaza's tree canopy is its best remaining asset and given Jacksonville's extreme weather conditions, should be preserved at all costs."

The entire article is at

From Gainesville — Downtown: family friendly or a haven for the homeless?

"There seems to be a mystery in people's minds as to why people would want to stay on the plaza," Tremaine said. "They stay on the plaza because there's fellowship and there's safety in those numbers."

The article goes on to make several sensible proposals that do not involve concrete paving of a plaza used by everyone.

For the entire article go here:

From the Wikipedia page about the Civic Center in San Francisco:

"Because the Civic Center is located near the skid row Tenderloin neighborhood, Civic Center has a seedy, run-down, high-crime reputation and appearance with large amounts of homeless encampments which has prevented it from attracting the large amounts of tourists seen in other areas of the city. Despite repeated redevelopment of Civic Center over the years aimed primarily at discouraging the homeless from camping there, large amounts of homeless continue to camp and loiter in the area."

In short, no matter what the City of San Francisco did to dissuade the homeless from using the Civic Center in terms of design, it was unsuccessful, because the homeless aren't attracted to a place for its design — they're attracted to a place where they feel safe and can be near where people congregate in order to panhandle for money or food.

For the entire entry, see

The city of Ashland's idea that concrete dissuades the homeless, which is not an original idea as evidenced above, reminds me of Jonathan Swift's essay, "A Modest Proposal", in which he suggested a unique solution to Ireland's Catholic/Protestant problem: to use Catholic babies as food (because all the sensible solutions, which he listed in his essay, had been dismissed out of hand). Of course, his essay is social satire.

The redesign of Ashland's Plaza, which is tantamount to demolition and massive construction costs that will yield a place useable to no one — except possibly the homeless, who will continue to use it for reasons listed in the articles above — is a shortsighted, expensive move that will accomplish nothing except everything its proponents would not want to be known for — not taking into account the community of Ashland when making their arbitrary decision being just one of their legacies. Once the concrete is poured and the old growth trees are gone, those who wanted the Plaza to look that way will be remembered for it. Will you remember it as a better place once it's sterile and uncomfortable? Or would you prefer that the Plaza is rehabilitated in a way that honors the history of the town and complements the surrounding historic buildings?

Isabeau Vollhardt lives in Ashland.

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