On my recent trip back home to Stockton, I took some time to hang out downtown. As I strolled along the waterfront around Weber Point taking in the scenery, I noticed a large number of school children utilizing the park. Some kids were playing soccer and others running around on the jungle gym. Turns out these children go to school downtown and walk to the waterfront for recess. As I continued my walk past the waterfront into the heart of downtown, I took notice of the supply of empty lots and defunct buildings which the city plans to tear down and replace with surface parking lots. Whether or not the city needs more parking downtown I am not certain, but after seeing kids lugging soccer goals back from Weber Point across busy streets, I can say first hand these students could use more green space closer to school.
So, here’s an idea: why not turn those condemned hotels into green space for students? Aside from the clear benefit of giving kids a place to play, the economic evidence of the benefit of parks is well documented.
As it turns out, the students I saw attend Stockton Collegiate International School, the two year old charter school located downtown at both Cort Tower and the Del Pueblo Building. As Mike Fitzgerald of the Record wrote about the other day, the school has injected new life into the area. But as I continued on my walking tour of downtown, it occurred to me that while Weber Point is a marvelous asset for downtown, herding groups of school children five blocks to the park across busy streets with soccer gear in tow is probably not ideal for the teachers, and parents probably are not thrilled either. Traditional schools have playground access on site; these kids have to trek to and from their green space every day.
Aside from the obvious argument that a park closer to the school is better for school children, the presence of parks and open space are shown to have real economic benefits as well. As discussed in a previous post, the presence of trees and parks can increase property values, sometimes significantly. The American Planning Association touts that parks can be a real economic engine for cities and downtowns by increasing tax revenue and attracting potential workers and businesses.
Thankfully, it appears that the Land Hotel has been identified as a potential site for a park. As noted here, the Land Hotel was originally slated for demolition to make way for a parking lot. While the demolition has been delayed until the fall, city officials are now considering turning the site into a park. The location appears to be easier for students and teachers to get to, just one block from the school’s location. The project would be funded through a Community Development Block Grant, meaning no general fund money will be used. Preliminary plans call for a playground as well as planters for students to learn about growing food. As for maintenance, community groups such as the Downtown Stockton Alliance and the school would pitch in to help with upkeep. While nothing is final, it is refreshing to see the city look into other uses for downtown lots besides parking that could actually enhance the neighborhood.
Hopefully, if this project is successful, the city will consider more alternative uses for planned parking lots. While it is a shame we cannot save all of the city’s historic buildings, we can at least pay homage to the structures by replacing them with something more useful and valuable than asphalt.