Latham Square in Downtown Could Revitalize with a Park for People

July 25, 2013

Culture, Politics, Streets

Latham Square Plaza is a ‘Pilot Project’

Oakland is revitalizing the intersection of Broadway and Telegraph as a place for people, by redesigning the 1st block of Telegraph as a pocket park, with the road closed to cars and open to people. Between 16th St and Broadway, Telegraph Avenue will be re-invented as a larger plaza with seating and street furniture and asthetic features to create a social space for people to stay and enjoy a special place in Downtown Oakland.

Fabrication of furniture and planters for the pilot is underway, and Oakland expects implementation of the pilot to occur over the next 6 weeks along the following approximate timeline:

·         July 16 - Telegraph south of 16th St. closed for construction, minor traffic re-striping to occur

·         July 27 10am-4pm – Community event to apply paint to the plaza. Oakland will paint the streets of Latham Square Plaza and is looking for enough volunteers to ensure that the entire space gets painted by the end of the day. Lunch will be served and wear your painting clothes. If you want to be a part of the street art, please contact Jamie Parks at: jparks@oaklandnet.com or by phone at: 510.318.1425.

·         August 15 - Construction completed

·         August 16 - “Soft” opening celebration jointly hosted by Downtown CBD (Community Business District) and City to acknowledge various recent improvements in downtown Oakland. No official announcement yet, but please mark your calendars.

However, the forces of darkness are gathering to stop the project, arguing that closing Telegraph Avenue to cars for its 1st block will be ‘detrimental to the success of Telegraph and its many new business.’ A petition has been signed by 40 local property owners and businesses to stop the project. East Bay Bicycle Coalition and Walk Oakland Bike Oakland are mobilizing to re-enforce public support for this great project that will improve bicycling on Telegraph both by calming traffic and by bringing more people to the area, and thereby raising awareness to drivers that this intersection is a place for people.

We want it to look something like this:

The reasons for this strong support are many:

  1. Latham Plaza is an historic gateway to Telegraph Avenue and was designed for people to enjoy and visit the local businesses along Broadway and Telegraph. As the poster boards hanging in the ground-floor windows of The Cathedral Building show, over the decades this intersection was redesigned more and more for cars and less for people. The photographs in the posters show how in each successive decade, fewer people came to this intersection. When in the 1950’s the intersection was finally designed for car thru traffic, the businesses along Telegraph and Broadway left.

  2. First Fridays are a great example of how closing streets to cars and opening them to people can revitalize a neighborhood and make Oakland a destination again. Oakland’s uniqueness is an asset we can take advantage of by making this city a place where people are going to come and stay and enjoy.

  3. New York and San Francisco are showing the rest of the country how underutilized spaces and roads overbuilt for cars can be repurposed as great community gathering spots, giving residents, workers and visitors a wonderful sense of place. Parklets are a small-scale version of this, but bigger examples include the Castro Commons in San Francisco and the closing of Broadway in New York.

  4. It is important that Latham Square Plaza be allowed to have programming in order for it to maximize its potential. The Plaza should be allowed to have events, entertainment, and vendors that create a social gathering point.

Pilot Programming

The City is working with the CBD and Popuphood to develop a program for the Latham Square pilot. The program will be based on the community input we have gathered as well as City economic development goals, and will focus on retail with occasional other events (e.g., music). Rather than allowing anybody to show up to sell anything at anytime, the retail will be curated by Popuphood/City/CBD to ensure good fit with existing downtown merchants, and to ensure high-quality products. While details are still being resolved, the intent is to have a grand opening event for retail in mid-September, with promotion of the space ramping up to allow for some weekend vending by the holiday shopping season.

Permanent Plaza

At the same time, we are moving forward as quickly as possible with designs for a permanent re-construction of Latham Square in 2014. We have selected a consultant team led by Bottomley Design + Planning to develop 35% concept plans by late fall 2013. The consultant team is currently preparing assembling background information in advance of the pilot opening. As part of the design process, we plan on hosting 2 community workshops before to returning to City Council. Workshop dates haven’t been set, but they will likely occur in early September and early October. Prior to these meetings, we will be reaching out to you as part of the pilot evaluation.

Here is the City’s official Latham Square Project Website.

This blog first appeared on the East Bay Bicycle Coalition’s website.

About Dave Campbell

Dave Campbell is the Advocacy Director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, lives near Lake Merritt and enjoys his BBQ smoker, in the Georgia tradition of his family.

View all posts by Dave Campbell