Editorial: A better view of downtown? It’s about time!
Concord shouldn’t be like the homeowner who paints the front of his house every few years but never paints the back because, while other people have to look at it, he doesn’t. The city will soon embark on the first complete redesign of Main Street in more than a half century, but that project will only change the streetscape as seen from downtown. From Interstate 93, unless something changes, what millions of people will see each year is the same old unsightly view of the rear of buildings, chain-link fencing, trash bins and the like.
Byron Champlin, chairman of the Creative Concord committee; architect Chris Carley; and the other volunteer members of Concord’s New Front Door would like to work with Main Street building owners to change that. Come spring they will hold a charrette to collect and discuss ideas and later a public hearing to discuss any that might be implemented. We thank the group for trying to address the problem. The best way to remedy it, of course, would be to move the highway. Once that happened, it wouldn’t be long before Concord had a true, new front door facing the Merrimack River. That could happen someday, but given the cost of such an endeavor, it’s more likely that the river will move than the highway.
Of the ideas floated so far by the group – lighting displays at night, plantings to mask what can’t be avoided, murals and brightly-painted backsides of buildings – we prefer the first two. A mural, or murals, where the highway passes close to the back of buildings would certainly be better than what’s there now but could grow stale with time and need replacement. Painting buildings a bright color, while cheerful, strikes us as too great a contrast with the look of the front of Main Street’s historic brick and granite buildings.
Artistic lighting could be the solution. LED lights now make it possible to create truly enormous displays that cost very little to operate. As we write, the plan is for artist Leo Villareal to throw the switch tonight on 25,000 white LED lights strung on the cables of the Oakland Bay Bridge that connects that city with San Francisco. The display, when tested early this year, was breathtaking. Villareal can control it from his computer and make the lights shimmer, twinkle and move in waves. The estimated annual cost of the electricity to operate the 25,000 lights on the 1.8-mile span is just $11,000.
More and more cities, both prosperous ones and communities trying to rebuild after decline, have engaged in public-private partnerships to fund public art. We hope Concord will too, creating a display that convinces motorists to exit the highway and visit downtown. Some of those efforts employ sculpture on a monumental scale. Often it’s kinetic art that, like a mobile by Alexander Calder, moves with the wind and the weather. Some artists have married mobile sculptures with LED lighting to create works that delight day and night. That, we think, would tell highway travelers that Concord truly is a fun place with a lot going on. It would also be a lot more effective than a marketing campaign based on a corny slogan and the proposed ambiguous blue and green logo the Creative Concord committee is considering.
The New Front Door committee is out to gather as many ideas as possible, so we don’t mean to preclude what should be a wide-open process at the outset. Please give some thought to what you think should be done to make Concord’s backside as pretty as its soon-to-be new front and share your ideas with the group. The status quo won’t do.