Harlan: Costa Mesa needs a public gathering space

July 07, 2012|By Jeffrey Harlan

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, no stranger to proposing creative and controversial initiatives, recently issued an interesting challenge to other mayors across the country.

Through his charitable foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Bloomberg is offering $9 million to cities for "bold ideas that can make government work better, solve a serious problem or improve city life."

The Mayors Challenge aims to celebrate creative problem-solving and innovation in city halls, and to share these strategies with cities across the nation.


And while winning some prize money and garnering some publicity may be good incentives for a city, in this time of reduced budgets, high demand for services and rising obligations, an entrepreneurial approach to tackling municipal challenges is almost a necessity.

In the spirit of the Mayors Challenge, I'd like to suggest an idea I believe is worth exploring. Our community would benefit by having a central and readily identifiable gathering space — a place that represents the heart of Costa Mesa.

We have a dearth of true communal gathering spaces. Our malls are now the substitutes for the traditional village green or town square, where people congregate daily for a range of activities and for large community events.

I love the fact that I can get everything I need or want within a 3-mile radius of my home, but we should have a multifunctional place that can host a weekly farmers market, a summer concert or a civic debate. It should also inspire spontaneous gathering, whether it's simply a meeting place for lunch, a launching-off point for shopping or a bike ride, or just a place of respite for people watching.

We have the underlying structure for such a place already. Vacating the portion of Harbor Boulevard between 19th Street and Newport Boulevard — one of the short sides of the triangle — would open the opportunity for a modern, public plaza space. The two adjacent developments, The Triangle and the 1835 Newport Blvd. shopping plaza, could be experienced as one large, contiguous environment.

This would help to better define what people often refer to as our "downtown," which is more of a historical reference than a practical reality. But the bones of this downtown — its scale, street pattern, proximity of residential- to neighborhood-serving commercial uses — are still there and can be improved upon.

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