Creating places is about building value in the community

September 19, 2014 Jared Beck

Public art installations—from parks to roadways—create an exceptional experience and makes each community unique

 

It took a mere elevator ride down from the top floor of City Hall in Fort Myers, Florida, and a walk to my car for my eager enthusiasm to get a dose of reality. I had just committed myself to another volunteer project for my community, and I began to wonder, “Why do I keep taking these on?”

Don’t get me wrong – I love doing this kind of work. I have developed a passion for historic preservation and public art over the last few years, from writing historic district designations to fundraising campaigns for the maintenance of public art collections. So as a council appointee to the Fort Myers Public Art Committee, I have had my hand in many aspects of future art within Fort Myers. To help the city with its goal of spreading public art throughout the “city proper,” this year each appointee committed to identifying specific locations to be included in our annual master plan update.

Believe it or not, identifying locations for public art where there’s very little public space proved even more challenging than I first anticipated. But then I came up with an idea, atypical for this region: What if we utilize an existing roadway (Treeline Avenue) to showcase sculptural art installation? The plan would be to incorporate a series of 10-12 large-scale pieces within the medians, include additional lighting and further enhance the landscaping to create a truly dramatic, visually-appealing presentation. This would be in partnership, in theory, between the city, county (as the roadway is county-owned), developers, and the MPO. 

Thinking more about that idea brought me right back to my initial enthusiasm. This is why I volunteer my time; these community programs matter. They build value in our communities – social, cultural, and economic. The actions we take on local volunteer committees help create long-lasting and positive benefits for the community and create a strong sense of place. 

One of the recent art installations in Fort Myers - Photo: Tom Hall, Art SWFL

 

We create places people want to experience
Our job as professionals in the A/E/C industry is to create one-of-a-kind, special, enduring communities. Whether it’s a bridge we cross on our way to work, an office building we walk by while getting a coffee, or the neighborhood we arrive home to each night, every decision we make impacts the value we add to our communities. 

We should be proud of what we create and design as if it were in our own backyards. We should ask ourselves, “What can we do to add that bit of extra value to make the community unique?” 

Recently, our Naples landscape architecture design studio finished a series of designs for the Parks and Beautification Department for the City of Fort Myers, my city.  Even approaching double-digit increases in tax bases, many municipalities still operate on a shoestring budget. The most realistic design solutions would be to keep it simple, plan inexpensive materials, and only fulfill the City’s minimum requirements. But, how much value would that add to the community, really? If we can’t envision a parks project to be fun, how will the families it’s intended for be able to enjoy it?

Luckily, the Parks and Beautification Manager agreed. After hearing the committee’s creative ideas on how to incorporate art not only in urban settings but in the community as a whole, he has embraced art as an added value he’d like to see in his parks. With his support, we have recently completed two new and two renovated park conceptual plans to include art installations as a key focal point of the design.

Who knew that touting the importance of public art within local communities was getting attention from some city department managers, committee heads, and other officials?  The City of Fort Myers Parks and Beatification Manger not only asked that our initial programming include a prominent location at each park for future installation, but summed it up by saying, “Doesn’t it just make good sense to have public art in a public park?”

By the time I pulled in my driveway I found myself excited once again for this community project.  “Wow,” I thought, “This is really is going to be cool for my community.” And that’s what it’s all about.

 

About the Author

Jared Beck

Jared Beck is a senior planner in the Community Development team in our Naples, Florida, office. He works in urban design, redevelopment, public places, design guidelines, and grant writing.

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