The plaza/square/walking street concept has been batted around for downtown Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint a few times over the years. The last attempt was a proposal for the area between Sherman Avenue and the Coeur d’Alene Resort last winter when feelings were mixed among the key decision-makers.
However, judging by the successes we’ve seen in Europe and Central America, keeping the concept alive here sure would be a good idea. Perhaps the City Fathers and Mothers need to restudy this.
Plazas and walking streets could be made by closing off central areas to traffic, especially in open spaces close to downtown businesses and natural visitor attraction areas such as the lake or river waterfront or parks. It would be great for the town economically and socially.
This concept can be especially successful in areas where tourism is a major part of the economy. Ideally situated in the commercial center of town, these plazas become the centers for tourists. They are surrounded by businesses, especially stores and restaurants, that attract the visitors. Especially popular are places that sell items, food or drinks unique to that town’s location. These items can be colorfully and tastefully displayed outside the business and tempt the interested customers inside.
Local artists and craftsmen can display their products that reflect the special attractions of the area. The plazas become great locations for sculptures or fountains or combinations of the two. The area can be enhanced through architecture and landscaping unique to the area, especially taking advantage of local talent and skills. These could include geological features such as rockwork or artistic tiling and water features.
Restaurants, coffee and alternative beverage businesses can spread from their stores onto adjacent plaza space where customers can be served under awnings or umbrellas. Walking streets in European cities with hot summers are shielded by attractive canvas canopies that can easily be removed.
Another super contribution of plazas is that they become places where the community, not just the tourists, can gather. Sure, this can be for special events, but it also is true for being the place where friends and neighbors regularly meet and greet each other. It doesn’t have to be during the tourist season.
We saw this in downtown Coeur d’Alene a few Friday evenings ago when the area was filled with local citizens who ventured out for the monthly Art Walk. People really enjoyed each other when they paused for a beverage or a snack at the outdoor tables. How great this is for community building rather than sitting home watching the tube!
The plazas can be expanded for other community uses. In one Guatemala town, one side of the central square has a lighted basketball court where the whole town gathers to socialize and watch town teams play each other. These attached courts could be used for other sports or activities special to that area.
Yes, maybe our geographical area is too seasonal to have the closed-off plazas or streets year-round. Therefore, they could be thoughtfully planned to allow the traffic areas to be open to vehicles again in the off-season. This would allow the locals to park closer to the downtown businesses in the winter.
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