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Advocate: Parks are for people, not awards

Fred Kent knows what he'd like to see done at Tanner Springs Park.

'Take it out and put in a park people will use,' he says. 'You've got something that will last forever, and it will never be what people want.'

Kent's comments might be easy to dismiss except for the fact that he is widely regarded as one of the country's leading authorities on urban parks. He is president of the Project for Public Spaces in New York, a nonprofit organization that consults worldwide on the best ways cities can use their public parks and squares.

Two years ago Kent was brought in to consult on Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square, where public use had dropped off in the wintertime. He also consulted on Seattle's Occidental Square, which he says had become dead public space and a hangout for the homeless. A retrofit currently is under way at Occidental.

The Project for Public Spaces has put together a list of elements every good park should attempt to include, ranging from flexible design to activities that encourage social interaction.

'This park is lacking all of them,' Kent says.

Kent says the entire concept of a boutique park in a dense urban area just doesn't make sense. 'A good park needs 10 things to do within it,' he says. 'Then you're really giving many different people different reasons to be in that place. We see these parks all over the place that will never be performing at the level they're required to. Once they've gotten into design journals the designers have achieved their objectives.'

In Kent's view, urban parks have to be about people first.

'A public space or park is a gathering place for people,' he says. 'The social fabric of a city is defined by its public spaces. These visual amenities - the look but don't touch, or iconic design - we see a lot of them all over the world where the designer might get a designer award but the community doesn't get its presence in the park because there's nothing to do there.'