The Salem City Council has some important Public Space business on the Agenda for tonight’s meeting (10/25 @ 7pm): 289 Derby Street (aka The Carnival Lot) could become one of the newest and most exciting Public Spaces in town.
The Carnival Lot is named for the two weeks in October that it is used as a carnival – like right now! The otherwise empty parcel is the most significant Public Space Opportunity for the City of Salem in years. The $1.4 million acquisition of the lot appears affordable as a bond order and an annual payment through the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding, roughly at 12.5% of the total CPA yearly capacity.
As a city, we have the opportunity to create a vital public space in the center of town that connects to so many community desires that I could write a list longer than you’d care to read. Here are 7 main points:
- The Carnival Lot is a unique space in the city that can be a gathering space at the intersection of downtown, a thriving commercial corridor, the Point neighborhood, part of the Harbor Walk, and waterside access, all within a dense urban context.
- Unlike any other public space in Salem, the proportion of the space creates an ideal outdoor room. Up the road, Derby Square functions as our historic “living room.” The Carnival Lot is also defined by masonry buildings on two sides, but has the bustling activity of Derby Street at one pedestrian entrance, and the South River on the other to create the feel of a true urban “front porch” with unique uses, such as “Seaside Cinema” perhaps?
- The Carnival Lot is a crucial anchor space to facilitate the realization of the South River Harbor Walk as a complete loop that connects across neighborhoods and offers a unique connection to a waterway in the middle of our city. Without this space, the walkway will lack a space for gathering that will create a place, rather than only a walk.
- The lot offers a unique connection to the South River that symbolically (and perhaps literally!) can bridge across to one of our most dynamic and undervalued neighborhood, The Point.
- The lot as a public space can connect for water activities on the currently underused South River.
- The lot itself provides unique opportunities for pedestrian connections, much like the most endearing public spaces in the city from the Essex Street mall and the myriad alleys to the Ropes Mansion Garden to new trails (from rails), a unique pedestrian system of getting through the city enables the robust foot traffic that makes for active, safe, and useful spaces.
- We have the opportunity to truly “Still Make History” by creating one of the most beautiful, exciting, and dynamic river walks in the state.
One of the most exciting aspects of acquiring The Carnival Lot is the potential for a genuine on-site, public process of what to do with it! Salem Public Space Project imagines great public gatherings exploring possibilities, experiments in the space with temporary notions, conversations about everyone’s ideas from stewardship and ecology to food-trucks and theater…. yes, we imagine and advocate an all-inclusive, all out, participatory process! That is our dream and hope for The Carnival Lot: both its process of becoming and the gathering space we create together will constitute a beautiful and forward thinking legacy of urban design and public space in Salem.
From Flatbread to Notch, to new businesses across the street and river, the adjacent activity makes The Carnival Lot’s emptiness even more conspicuous. The alternative of an eventual built development (like condos, let’s say) would detract from the value of the location to the surrounding businesses, as well as the public. A novel, vital public space complements and adds real value to the existing and growing density.
Write your Councilor if you support the Public Space Opportunity and / or attend the meeting at City Hall, tomorrow October 25 at 7pm.