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Public spaces and public places (commentary)


In this week’s Barber Brief, Alicia Barber discussed decisions, plans and promises for the Lear Theater and City Plaza–two well-known downtown properties. Read the full missive here.

By Alicia Barber

Well, howdy, strangers! I’ve been out of town for a few weeks, on a rollicking road trip through some of my favorite western cities including Salt Lake, Santa Fe, Tucson, San Diego, and Austin, TX. In each, I was deeply impressed by their ability to balance growth with livability, on a neighborhood and a larger civic level.

I’ve returned more determined than ever to encourage greater thoughtfulness in planning and design here in Reno, to counter the perilous pattern of short-term thinking, the tenacious tendency to shape the contours of the city in response to what a few people want now, prioritizing what’s easiest and fastest to build, rather than reflecting carefully upon what will be best for the livability, beauty, and health of our neighborhoods, our city, and all of its residents both now and in the long run.

At the end of the day, people—whether residents, tourists, or other visitors—want to be in places that look attractive, that are vibrant and varied, and that make them feel safe. And creating those places and spaces requires us to put people at the center, to thoughtfully consider how real people act and what they like to see and experience, and to resist any decision-making that promises future benefits for all, while in reality providing only short-term gains for a select few.

In short, we don’t want to miss any more opportunities to build something great, whether that’s an individual apartment building, a mixed-use development, a university district, a public plaza, or a commercial thoroughfare. Let’s not be content to settle for the unimaginative, the expedient, or the mediocre. We deserve far better than that and so do future residents of the city we love.

Putting the “Public” in Public Spaces and Places

So…what did I miss? Just kidding—I’m apparently physically incapable of tuning out news about Reno, even from thousands of miles away. And while I was gone, my attention was caught by reports about two topics in particular: the news that Artown has offered to donate the Lear Theater to the City of Reno; and some possible permanent additions and alterations to the plaza in front of City Hall.  

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