Ewell Plaza is a .78 acre public space and building complex resulting from the 1960’s demolition and redevelopment of historic urban fabric in response to competition from suburban malls. Due to the redevelopment’s failure, the space declined into an expanse of asphalt surrounded by blank facades. Not surprising, it was little used and became a liability. Revitalization of the space was highlighted as an opportunity in the Economic Strategic Plan the city of Lancaster hired Mahan Rykiel to complete.
In line with the strategic plan, the City and its partners initiated the redesign of the open space to support the new uses and create a vibrant public gathering place that serves and connects all citizens of Lancaster, recognizing the importance of public space as part of its robust economic development strategy. In addition to serving as its own destination, a revitalized square will help connect areas of investment and destinations to each other. This in turn magnifies the investments impact upon downtown’s economy and livability.
The landscape architect served as team lead, community engagement facilitator and designer, and continues to lead the project through implementation. The landscape architect branded the design process and led an iterative stakeholder engagement process using interactive forms of engagement at downtown events, neighborhood festivals and workshops, with particular focus on reaching the significant Hispanic and African American populations. The resultant design pays homage to the City’s moniker, the “Red Rose City,” using forms and program elements that convey an abstracted rose and complement the adjacent, more passive park across the street. The design maximizes flexibility to accommodate programming throughout the year; accommodates phased development; responds to diverse user needs including adjacent retailers, library visitors, and residents; provides for traffic calming and safer connections to and from the space; incorporates green infrastructure and repairs the scars left by failed redevelopment of the past.
SITE PLAN | The .75 acre Lancaster Square was a barren underutilized “open space” associated with a 1960’s redevelopment project and served as a barrier among revitalized downtown areas and anchor destinations. Conversion of the adjacent vacant buildings into vibrant mixed-use redevelopment (currently underway) presented an opportunity to transform the space into a place.
PROJECT OVERVIEW | Lancaster Square is located along North Queen Street, an important north-south thoroughfare, opposite the existing Binns Park/County Courthouse Complex. The open space is a public park that serves both private mixed-use development as well as the broader community, while complementing the existing Binns Park.
BRANDED PROCESS | The stakeholder-based process was important for ensuring a park design that meets the needs of diverse users. The design team branded the design process to create a recognizable identity for the process while conveying that stakeholders truly had an opportunity to “shape” the future of this space, plagued by many negative connotations.
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT | The five-month iterative concept design process incorporated numerous opportunities for community and stakeholder engagement. Early “touch points” informed the initial design; later touch points shaped and refined the concept. Now approved, the square is in the design development stage, targeting an early Spring 2020 opening.
EARLY ENGAGEMENT | Engaging the community prior to any design effort was critical to ensure that the plan incorporated user needs and wants. The team launched the process during the annual Celebrate Lancaster Festival and engaged citizens there and during other neighborhood festivals and was able to garner the input of hundreds of citizens, including both English and Spanish speakers.
REPORTING BACK | Drawing upon the community input, the team identified key themes, preferences for program elements and desired design features and used them to establish design goals.
DESIGN INSPIRATION | Based upon the findings, the team established goals and explored broad design gestures to establish a framework with which to achieve the goals. Design gestures were influenced by the city’s grid pattern, traditional forms, and from the city’s moniker “The Red Rose City.”
EARLY DESIGN | The team explored two of the gestures that best achieved the goals and community input: a straightforward orthogonal approach and an “abstracted rose”. These were vetted with community stakeholders using interactive group exercises. The preferred approach was then refined to incorporate the input.
CONCEPT PLAN | The resultant concept is the refined “abstract rose” that uses park elements – softscape and hardscape; paving patterns; retail pavilions, and planters – to reinforce circulation patterns and define complementary use areas, including a flexible lawn, interactive fountain, outdoor reading room and outdoor dining areas.
PROGRAM ELEMENTS | In addition to the illustrative plan and perspective renderings, the team used infographics to highlight programmatic elements of the park and illustrate to stakeholders how their input has shaped the plan.
ADJACENT USES AND SUSTAINABILITY | The park design is multi-dimensional. The physical design responds to the different uses included within the mixed-use development – from more civic uses to the north (library) to retail and residential uses to the south. Green infrastructure is incorporated into the form-giving elements allowing for interpretation while maximizing usable space.
SEASONAL FLEXIBILITY | Flexibility extends to all four seasons and different times of day; an important requirement of stakeholders. Diagrams were used to illustrate how the park could function during a variety of events and while accommodating multiple programs concurrently.
BUILT DESIGN | From every response the city received; accessibility, lighting, events and programs, community history, plant and sustainability features, and user amenities were the aspects the public wanted the most. Priority was given to flexible event space, as well as a 122,584-gallon stormwater retention system that gathers rainfall from the plaza and nearby parking garage. Connected to the retention system is a 6,000-gallon cistern, where rainfall is held and used to water the plants and trees in Ewell Plaza.