Esther Short in top 10 of U.S. public spaces

Planning group praises park's redevelopment role

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Esther Short Park, the oldest public square in the Pacific Northwest, has been honored as one of 10 Great Public Spaces 2013 by the American Planning Association.

Every year the APA, which has offices in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, names 30 "exemplary public spaces, streets and neighborhoods to highlight the role planning and planners play in adding value to communities, including fostering economic growth and jobs," according to an APA news release.

Esther Short Park was singled out "for a design that honors the city's history and culture, amenities that allow for participation and contemplation, and the park's catalytic role in the city's long-range, $800 million downtown mixed-use plan that has attracted some $250 million in reinvestment since 2002," the release said.

"Esther Short Park illustrates the power of a public space to transform its surrounding environs," said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer. "Convinced of the park's potential to stem downtown Vancouver's decline, city leaders, investors and residents positioned the park as part of a larger planning strategy. By restoring the park as a place residents feel comfortable using and enjoying, the city has be able to infuse downtown with a vibrancy that has accelerated redevelopment," Farmer added.

'Wonderful transformation'

The city council adopted the Esther Short redevelopment plan in 1997 to bring downtown back to life.

Former Mayor Royce Pollard was the force behind rebuilding the park. At a 2001 dedication of the park's Propstra Square — named for the late Burgerville founder George Propstra and his wife, Carolyn, who made a $3.2 million donation for the square and bell tower — Pollard said, "Every community needs a heart. And the heart can be pulsating right out of Esther Short Park."

In response to the honor from the APA, Mayor Tim Leavitt said the park has gone through a "wonderful transformation."

"With great public events almost every weekend during the summer, plus the beautiful glockenspiel clock tower, playground and water feature, Esther Short Park is a sparkling green jewel in the heart of downtown Vancouver," Leavitt said.

The land for the 5.4-acre park was bequeathed to the city to use as a park by Esther Short in 1853.

The nine other APA 2013 Great Public Spaces are: Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Anchorage; Grand Park, Los Angeles; The Broadwalk in Florida's Hollywood, Hollywood, Fla.; Norman B. Leventhal Park at Post Office Square, Boston; Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass.; Forest Park, St. Louis, Mo.; Essex County Branch Brook Park, Newark, N.J.; Grand Central Terminal, New York City; and Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge, Chattanooga, Tenn.

Other Pacific Northwest sites that have been honored by the APA include Pike Place Market in Seattle, Tacoma's Point Defiance Park and Portland's Tom McCall Waterfront Park and Pioneer Courthouse Square, said Barbara Ayers, spokeswoman for the city of Vancouver.