By David M. Greenwald
While the densification and added residential housing in the downtown plan has gotten most of the attention, one of the big focuses on the Downtown Davis Specific Plan is adding public spaces.
One of the clear goals: “Enhance Davis’ walkable character with an exemplary public realm and public spaces that, together, function as outdoor rooms, in response to Davis’ excellent climate.”
Writes the draft plan: “A successful public space need not be very large or elaborately designed. Trees, seating, lighting and activities, such as food trucks, are enough to create a vibrant community gathering space.”
Goal five notes: “An active and inclusive public realm that promotes civic engagement and health.”
Among the guiding policies: “Establish a new public space and center for Downtown that is centrally located and programmatically different from Central Park, with supporting retail, civic, and cultural uses and activities.”
What was not planned in the past year is what has evolved on G Street and also in the E Street Plaza—Open Air Davis. It has probably helped that this has been a milder year with relatively little rainfall, but once we dropped back into the purple tier and businesses could resume outdoor operations, things have livened up.
During a time when restaurants were not allowed to operate inside, Open Air Davis allowed key restaurants that normally didn’t have patio access to be able to serve a dine-in crowd—just outside, where people could socially distance and where air circulation was not a threat to public health.
The city has in a makeshift way created a relatively vibrant enclave on G Street. The city told the Vanguard that they had not really thought of doing this before, but that necessity becomes the need to be innovative.
Now a key question: Should the city consider making this permanent? Or should the city incorporate the idea of an outdoor gathering area that caters to bars and restaurants as a feature of the new downtown plan?
As someone who works on G Street, I find the atmosphere which previously contained the bustle of vehicular traffic onto the narrow G Street and a few businesses to be okay, but this has the opportunity to be dynamic—especially once standards are relaxed. Imagine a more permanent plaza arrangement with vegetation, eateries, perhaps some outdoor dining, and maybe even small music or other entertainment?
It could be boon for the downtown and those businesses on G Street.
The downside? Probably the loss of 40 or so parking spaces—right now not a big deal, but perhaps, come a more normal climate, a problem.
The traffic is blocked on the block between Second and Third Streets on G Street, but G Street was never a great arterial. E and F Streets generally serve the north-south traffic and Second and Third Streets remain open and accessible.
There of course have been some hiccups.
A week ago the big tent got taken down because of a large gathering that caught the attention of authorities.
“The City is aware of a large gathering that took place this past weekend at one of the downtown tent sites contrary to COVID-19 safety protocols. City staff met this week with the Davis Downtown Business Association leaders to address changes,” the city announced.
The city replaced the large tent with two smaller ones—which probably is better anyway.
“The gathering that took place was clearly unacceptable, and these changes to the downtown tent areas are necessary to prevent gatherings like we saw this past weekend,” said Police Chief Darren Pytel. “We ask the public to continue to abide by State and County COVID-19 rules for their own safety and for the safety of the community.
“The City is trying to help downtown businesses during the pandemic by allowing the flexible use of outdoor space, but public health has to come first” said Vice Mayor Lucas Frerichs. “All tented areas will now be assigned as temporary-use permit spaces where businesses are responsible for space management, cleanliness and alcohol use. We appreciate the continued collaboration with Davis Downtown as we work through these community safety issues.”
These are of course temporary problems. At some point large gatherings will not represent the threat they do right now.
Of course, the location of these plazas and open air dining and potential for entertainment does not have to occur on G Street. But to me it makes a lot of sense. The space seemed underutilized and this has the potential to revitalize the entire block, not to mention change the entire atmosphere of the downtown.
Everyone says no to new changes until those changes are forced on us. Now let us think long and hard about how to take advantage of this moment.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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