Capital Park isn’t revitalizaiton and that’s fantastic

If you’re paying attention to this blog, you’ll know that yesterday wrote an article about the best way to spend government revitalization dollars. Many projects are pitched as revitalization but if they don’t have even the punch of my little hypothetical test project then they shouldn’t be called revitalization.

To be honest, I hurried up to get this test written in advance of a review of of Capital Park Master Plan.

Happily the Capital Park plan does not claim to be revitalization but instead is just a very nice state park.

Having not yet read the Master Plan, I expected to read all sorts of claims about how the park was key to Trenton’s economic development. As it turns out, the opposite is true.

Capital Park - theater

There are next to no claims about revitalization.

This is a good thing. Instead the stated goals are:

  • Reinforce the Capital Core
  • Reclaim the Riverfront
  • Release the Assunpink
  • Reconnect Trenton

These goals are pretty innocuous and can pretty much be summed up as follows, “Build a pretty park, that has some historical aspects, increase the downtown foilage, make life great for walkers and cyclists and don’t mess up traffic too much”.

Sounds lovely. What it doesn’t say is that the Capital Park will create jobs or spawn massive new development. This is OK. Trentonians can use more “lovely”.

If there is a state budget for building new parks just because parks are lovely, then I’m glad we’re getting our fair share.

When will Dad’s wallet run dry?

My only concern is that, as Trentonians, we can only ask for so much. Eventually Dad’s wallet will run dry. Hopefully we’re asking for all the right things.

The state has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Trenton over the last several years. So far we’ve not actually gotten anything that would lead to revitalization. I wonder if we shouldn’t trade favors and try to get real revitalization money instead.

Some are touting the park as economic development anyway

Though the plan itself does a good job avoiding claims about economic development, I’ve received at least one email from a park Steering Committee member who does make that claim. The park is compared to the San Antonio’s Riverwalk, which is sort of like comparing a Volkswagon to Ferrari. They serve two different purposes. Though I’ve asked many people and read the complete Master Plan, I see no economic impact analysis.

It’s sloppy to make such comparisons and should they start appearing in the press I’ll attempt to expose them. Meanwhile, I’m concerned that the legislators who approve funding won’t be so discriminating in their evaluation of the project. They’ll be handed a “plan for a lovely park” and be told its really a revitalization engine. That’s dishonest politics.

The park’s supporters shouldn’t mislead the legislature about what this plan is and isn’t.

There will be economic benefit

To be honest, after reading the plan, I was ready to give the park credit for as much as a 5% increase in property values within 1/2 mile. We’ll see if this can happen and I’ll be in a good position to test the benefit as our two Peace St. properties are within 100 yards of the park border. Will I be able to raise rents by $30/month because of the park?

Capital Park - map

There are some issues with the plan

From my reading of the plan, the three biggest risks seem to be:

  1. Funding dries up during the process
  2. The public safety situation gets out of control
  3. The Parking mitigation efforts don’t work

There is a risk the plans ambitious programming efforts don’t materialize, however, the park can still be an enjoyable spot even without them.

I didn’t participate in the process and wish I had. I would have made sure these risks and their potential impact on operating costs were highlighted. Also, I don’t feel represented by anybody on the steering committee. Most steering group member were state agency representatives. The lone city representative presumeably takes orders from the Mayor and therefore doesn’t represent progressive Trenton policy.

Despite all my fuss, I must say that the plans look good so far.

Wish it was more of a fitness park

Of course the devil is in the details and here’s a detail that didn’t come through in the plan. Most parks today are used to improve fitness, not look at plants or historical artifacts. There didn’t seem to be a focus on fitness level biking or running.

Running and especially cycling for fitness require different infrastructure than their casual cousins. One only needs to observe Route 29 between Stockton and Frenchtown. Bikers stay on the highway and casual riders are on the canal path. Serious riders can’t use the canal path.

Capital Park Trails

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks

4 Responses to “Capital Park isn’t revitalizaiton and that’s fantastic”

  • To me, the master plan seems an unobjectionable if somewhat fey exercise, mainly a fantasy of landscape architecture. The costs are certainly backloaded, and I don’t see any way Phases III or IV get financed or done.

    Phases I and II seem affordable and can probably be justified on grounds of statewide civic pride alone (the way the renovated Statehouse makes you feel proud when you’re inside it, but I agree that with so much land area so far removed from ratables (or even commercial establishments), there’s minimal economic-development justification.

    Now, Dan, take your housing bounty concept (so much a nicer word than “bribery”) and apply it to redeveloping the “South Assunpink” parking-lot moonscape (yes, I know it used to be a vital neighborhood) as a mixed-income residential district (hmm…maybe on flood stilts), then we’d be talking economic impact and a reason to invest further in the Riverfront Park, Confluence Gardens, Route 29 boulevard, blah blah blah.

    IMHO, that entire area around Trent House that hugs the river is absolutely key to bridging Mill Hill to the waterfront, and then working toward blasting across the Route 1 barrier to the neighborhoods on the other side, which in turn link to other semi-functional clusters like the ballpark, the Roebling complex, and Chambersburg. Given Trenton’s uniquely awful geometry, connectivity between clusters of economic activity is more important than perfection at the Statehouse waterfront, especially if as you say the wallet runs dry before it’s all done.

  • David,

    Nice post.

    I’m with you on developing the parking lots and you’re right on about the “pride” benefit.

    A housing bounty for the Trent Square area (like the naming suggestion?) would be a big boon.

  • Great post, Dan.

    My main concern with this park system is that there is very little opportunity for “eyes” on the park beyond those inside the park. The space the park will inhabit is currently a “no-man’s land” of parking lots, and lost, underutilized, uninhabited space. The proposal replaced pavement with grass and a complex web of walkways, bridges, plantings etc. But fundamentally, the functional use of the space will be the same: there is none.

    The comparison with the San Antonio Riverwalk really is upsetting. That is such a different type of park, river, and city. Developing a commercial core around a river takes years of slow development, and it has yielded an amazing, unique urban fabric in San Antonio. I would love for the same thing to happen in Trenton, but the plans as they are now show a primarily “naturalistic” park bounded by lost space. Its like comparing an apples to tacos.

    Another small item: The War Memorial cries for a formal space fronting it. I am really surprised that the great lawn and water feature are not oriented in such a way that complements the monumentality of that great Trenton treasure. Imagine a miniature reflecting pool. A strong pedestrian axis towards the flags. It seems like a great opportunity which is being missed.

    Thanks for starting some discussion about the park, to date I haven’t seen anyone discuss this publicly before…

  • It looks as though some of our legislators are beginning to balk at the $87M price tag. Fair enough, but their other complaint that surface parking will be lost is a poor complaint. The surface parking is the problem. One way or another, the city must take back the parking lots (Trenton owns the land).

Leave a Reply