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My Turn: Make sure Main Street works for real people

I was very glad to see the preliminary design plans for a new Main Street in Friday’s Monitor, since they provide a more concrete picture of what’s being proposed. These are clean, crisp images; the software even depicts contemporary automobiles, and, if one looks closely, one parked UPS truck and a FedEx truck in the southbound lane, a tiny nod to delivery vehicles.

Who isn’t beguiled by such a pleasant landscape?

Yet, and this is a huge yet, the scene bears no connection to reality; the “see-through” people, particularly in crosswalks, handily attest to that.

When I was in art school taking a design class, I learned that the first rule of design is “Form follows function.” Certainly the more sophisticated eye can love a piece of sculpture in the form of a chair, say, with elegant, imaginative lines straying afar from this rule. However, unless one doesn’t need the chair to be sturdy and ergonomic, in addition to have pleasing lines, color, texture, etc., then the form is not following function. It is a piece of art for art’s sake, a concept I embrace heartily; I am an artist after all. But art for art’s sake has no place when it comes to the functionality of Main Street.

And what is that function? At it’s core, it is a commercial district, which means businesses of all stripes proffer services and goods that need customers to survive. Ergo: easy parking is vital.

Second, these businesses need supplies and goods their customers seek. Hence, delivery trucks need easy, non-obstructing or obstructed access.

Third, since life is not always picture-perfect, this vital artery needs to provide unfettered transit for emergency vehicles of all sizes and numbers. One doesn’t need an apocalypse film to see how a single line of traffic each way will not provide this.

Fourth, the area needs to be sensually pleasing: beautiful buildings with artful signage, trees, flowers, benches, just to start. Pocket parks, public restrooms, street musicians, public art – all add to the ambiance. Bring them on.

If one is asked to custom design a chair (for use, not art), the first step is to ask the person who will be using it. Have those who are driving these changes interviewed those who use Main Street? A place to start would be emergency responders, truck drivers, consumers, those who work there. Consider the elderly, physically challenged.

Consider the long snow-and-ice prolific winters, for goodness’ sake.

The next time the design firm comes up with a visual proposal, I suggest they invite real people to have input on the plans, not those who are see-through and still cast shadows.

(Darlene Olivo lives in Concord.)

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