William F. O'Brien
Special to The Sun
In the recently published “The Genius of Venice” American historian Dial Parrott writes of how old Latin chronicles detailed the existence of the “rivus altus” which translates into “deep stream” that in time became the Venetian waterway that is known as the Grand Canal.
And, it is doubtful that the authors of those ancient documents could have imagined how the rivus altus would become the site of one of the world’s most fabled and visited waterways.
The citizens of Altus were recently told of how a now moribund alley on the north side of that community’s town square could be transformed into a pocket park that will bring people to it. Several other Oklahoma communities, including Tahlequah, Wilburton and Cushing have constructed pocket parks on unused land in their downtown areas.
The town of Woodward is in the process of planning for one on it’s Main Street.
Larry Lucas, an architect for the Oklahoma Department of Commerce’s Main Street Program, and Scott Day, an urban consultant from San Antonio, made a presentation to a group of Altus residents about how such a park could be constructed. The site is currently home to utility installations that could be moved at minimal cost and both Lucas and Day believe that a park on that site would assist in the ongoing rebirth of the Altus Town Square. It could possibly result in the rear alleys of the other buildings on the Altus Town Square being developed for public use.
An art gallery is currently under construction in a structure located adjacent to the proposed park and there are several retail establishments in operation in formerly unused buildings. Day will develop some possible plans for the park that will be presented to Altus over the next several months.
The Main Street architect spoke of how several downtown communities that are affiliated with his program now show movies on the walls of their downtown areas at night and said that the proposed park in Altus could serve as a place where people could gather to watch films. He also pointed out that people have expressed an interest in renovating the second floors of buildings there to serve as residential units and that the construction of a park would heighten peoples’ interest in the possibility of living on the town square.
More recently, Lucas has said that such a park would in a sense become a community living room that could host local events. In addition, it would provide a space for local business people and those who live nearby to meet.
Pocket parks were first constructed in New York City during the 1960s, and the ones that are in place there provide a space for people to gather under the steel and granite skyscrapers of the Big Apple.
City of Altus Planning Director Barbara Burleson envisions the proposed park for downtown Altus as being a place where people could gather to eat lunch and talk as well as a venue for art shows and musical presentations. And, it is possible that in the future people from other communities will come to Altus to see how a pocket park on a town square can assist in the redevelopment of a downtown area.
William F. O’Brien is an Oklahoma City attorney.