Ah Columbia, I've had the opportunity to write about you, and what has transpired within your walls over the life of this blog. I've been fortunate to live here for the past eight years. In that time I've seen this city grow, businesses go and come, neighborhoods fall and rise. For in Columbia there is always a feeling of expectant hope, labored but expextant.
Nothing illustrates that point more than my visit to the new Esplanade at Canalside this morning.
I took a walk at Canalside and thought, this is it? Really? Canalside, which is the development by the River which used to be the State Prison, is being operated by the Beach Co. Canalside was the brain child of a decade or more of city leadership and developers blessed by the River Alliance to push Columbia where it was naturally want to go - towards the River.
What I found when I got to there was not what I was expecting.
Parks serve multiple purposes. Not only are they a source of recreation and entertainment for residents and the surrounding communities, but they also serve to inspire and even limit development. The Riverfront & Canal side park was to do all of the above.
The Esplanade which is the cities first expansion of the Canal Side park in some years was dedicated on Friday (which garnered literary mention in these pages here). What I saw was disappointing. Let me emphasise that at this stage in the game it's definitely overhyped, and as I gazed up and down the river from the wall, I couldn't help but see what will be very difficult empasses for the remainder of the nine phase project.
Wow, 9 phases which will culminate a 25+ year movement towards the water and one that city leaders hope will ultimately and finally give Columbia a sense of identy and direction, but is it over rated?
I don't quite know the answer to that question. It is, as I've already stated, a natural inclination for folks to migrate towards water. Cities while famous for 'sitting on a hill' also arise and cling to bodies of water, especially rivers. But I can't get the challenges such a project has faced and are still to face out of my head.
Possibly the biggest issue is that the Esplanade is not handicapped accesible to/from the rest of Riverfront & Canal Side park, but then again - neither is any of the developed 'housing' with its exposed stair cases and architecture reminiscent of private Student Housing rahter than riverfront village for that matter of mixed commerce and residencies.
The big picture is that the greenway and river front park would be extended from the current park originally constructed circa the Year of our Lord (and my birth) 1983, all the way passed the (aaaah!) State Museum! to the Carolina Inovista Campus scheduled to extend between Gervais and Grandby Park.
Then there's the devil in the details. Like how is the Esplanade going to tie into the rest of the park? How is the Canal Side going to connect with the portion of the Greenway opposite it by the State Museum? When will USC begin on their 'world class waterfront park'?
The problem is the City and it's partners instead of answering all questions at one time acts in a piecemeal fashion. There are many reasons, some valid, some not - including funding. And this is the essence of that 'labored' part of the metaphor used earlier. Columbia while willing to think big - is slow to materialize the big design, and when it comes to execution the idea is lost in the focus on the individual project. What happens is a development that can take a decade or more when designs for each segment go through draft after draft and a disjointed image appears as everything is completed in hodged podged fashion.
What's left to be seen now is how and when the city completes it's portion of the Parkway and when USC begins whether the whole thing can be pulled off, even if it is seamful.