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Saturday, July 25, 2009

After School Matters Bench Project, Chicago, Illinois

During our travels we ran across this inspiring bench project in Chicago. Several benches were hand-painted and sculpted by teenagers in gallery37, a program of After School Matters, which employs teenagers both during the summer and after school, working with professional artists, teens created unique pieces of art while also learning valuable job skills. These were subsequently installed at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. This is just one of several enhancements to this airport that made this a wonderful airport to visit. More information about the program and artwork available for purchase is at www.afterschoolmatters.org.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

New Haven Landmark Marker Program, New Haven, Connecticut

Many communities have their own local register of historic places, and some even have markers to show these places off. New Haven is fortunate to have The New Haven Preservation Trust that is responsible for placing bronze plaques on designated buildings. The design is fairly straightforward and a simple elliptical shape with a symbol in the center and the text "A New Haven Landmark" above in larger letters, and "The New Haven Preservation Trust" below in smaller letters. There are two bulls eye shaped mounts where the plaque is affixed to the building.

Unfortunately when visiting the NHPT website there is no easily accessible information about the marker program. Reading into it somewhat, it could be this program is either not advertised or is being phased out. Some communities have found Wikipedia to be an effective and free tool to organize data about historic properties designated at the local and federal levels. One such example is the List of Town of Oyster Bay Landmarks.

The Historic New Haven Digital Collection through Yale University, provides a unique assortment of images, maps and data sorted by neighborhood. This has some interesting potential to help make research materials broadly available. Combining materials from this collection with information about landmarked properties might have some real potential.

Lastly, while identification plaques are helpful, increasingly people are looking for more interpretive information. Having a number keyed to each location that corresponds with a website, audio tour, printed guide, cell phone tour, or some combination of the above would help to make more interpretive material more available. Doing so would help to create a stronger connection between the public and landmark buildings that groups like the New Haven Preservation Trust are seeking to protect.

Visitor Information Center, New Haven, Connecticut

New Haven has a handsome Visitor Center at a high-visibility downtown location. The center is located at 1000 Chapel Street adjacent to the New Haven Green and notable buildings of Yale University. On this same street just a block away is the Yale Center for British Art, and a number of other cultural attractions, shops, and restaurants.

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Most of the success of this center is its corner location. The center is clearly marked with custom-made projecting signs, neon flush mounted signs, and decals applied to the windows. Efforts to harmonize the center with the historic building it is located in while keeping a contemporary and modern feel are also notable.

The center appears to be supported by the sale of memorabilia and tickets to attractions and special events. Whether the center is open or closed the handsome downtown area map is enlarged and always on display. Use of the question mark symbol helps to immediately establish for people this is a good place to go to have their questions answered. Hours of operation are Monday to Thursday from 10am to 9pm, Friday and Saturday from 10am to 10pm, and Sunday from noon to 5pm.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Stamford Town Center Jazz on the Plaza, Stamford, Connecticut

As most visitors to Stamford, Connecticut might attest, this is a city and downtown in search of its center and whose history is not immediately apparent. Founded in the 17th century, very few relics from the colonial era and 18th and 19th century heritage are present.

This issue is put into stark contrast by a New York Times article from May 1988 entitled "A Town Sells Off Pieces of Its Soul". In it the author states a wave of redevelopment projects and lamented somewhat nostalgically:
When the city sold that small piece of its past, allowed parking lots to be built on playgrounds and permitted Park Manor to become just another office building, Stamford lost something dearer than jobs. Little by little, the town had sold off pieces of its soul, something that may take decades to find again.

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Ironically, the same modernizing forces which made Stamford an important corporate center for Connecticut made it a less vibrant retail destination for the major downtown mall. Stamford saw itself challenged by nearby Greenwich, Connecticut's downtown shopping district and newer malls in White Plains. In response, the mall owner Taubman Center redeveloped the former Filene's anchor and added pedestrian-friendly retail space. In November 2007, the Stamford Town Center opened with four new restaurants and an outdoor space for public gatherings.

Recognizing the important role of events to attract crowds, the "Jazz on the Plaza" concert series was started, sponsored by the US Open Tennis Championship, Altria Senior Living, a local State Farm Insurance agent, and the local 96.7FM radio station. A tent was erected in the Plaza with a sign promoting the series. While this is hardly the full answer to the question of what Stamford needs, it is at least a hopeful step forward, even if in design and programing it borrows from more successful downtown areas like Greenwich which it ostensibly is competing with.