Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tackling the Triangle

By Aisha Motlani
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Some of you may be aware of plans to improve the 5th Ward/ Walker’s Point area that were outlined in a recent article in the Milwaukee Journal’s Cue section. I went along to 5th Ward Development Association on Tuesday night at the new Caf Luna on Seeboth to find out more. There are plans to make improvements to 1st Street between the river and Pittsburg Ave. which include calming the traffic that passes through the area, enhance the pedestrian access, improve access to the river and do something meaningful with the triangle of land between Water, 1st and Seeboth. It’s this last part that piqued my interest. The idea is to utilize that space to create a gateway into the 5th Ward which so feels something akin to a no-mans land between Mitchell and the great arch that tells you you’ve arrived in the Third Ward. City Architect Bob Greenstreet presented some slides showing the various possibilities for that space; everything from a hard landscape with a rough industrial feel, an area of native plantings and/ or water features that somehow run into the river to a venue for a piece of public art. Though these are only preliminary stages and any ideas are loose and formless there seemed a general show of approval for going down the green route. My fear is that the term “green space” or “park” begins loose and formless and continues this undecided existence. There’s a real danger, as one member of the audience pointed out, that come winter this triangle will be swamped in snow scraped off the streets and the plantings will die leaving a weedy soppy mess. I’m aware public art can often end up an entirely redundant addition to the city, often taking the blandest and most primary of forms. Nevertheless I believe there’s an opportunity here to create a meaningful piece of public art that really speaks to the distinction between these two neighborhoods in a way few plants and a solitary bench won’t do. One perceptive audience member pointed out it’s not just visual improvements that the area needs but audible improvements, and that got me thinking. Can this space somehow be a venue for a piece that creates a less passive involvement with the viewer? Something playful that somehow enables the creation of different qualities of sound or vibrations. It might be as subtle as different material treatments or as obvious as speakers that transmit music or ambient noise. Something that creates a little surprise that jolts the average pedestrian or driver out of their reveries…
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