History played a big role at the meeting on the future of Iowa City’s Ped Mall on Thursday night. At the first public meeting on the Pedestrian Mall Improvements Project in July, the focus was on engineering and structural improvements.
“One of the things the design team has done since we saw you in July was digging into the history of the space,” said Angie Coyier of Gēnus Landscape Architects, the firm overseeing the $6.5 million dollar improvement project, when addressing the plans for Black Hawk Mini Park.
The park actually predates the establishment of the Ped Mall by a few years.
“It was originally intended to be a temporary park, but how with its great success became permanent,” Coyier told the group of about 20 people gathered in the ballroom at the Sheraton. “The citizens raised a ruckus, so the park would stay.”
Coyier said design plans had been updated to “better communicate the history of Black Hawk Mini Park.”
The park was the idea of Project Green, a nonprofit founded in 1968 “to support the identification and conservation of open space, historic areas and buildings.” It served as venue for many protests in 1970s, and once had a mural celebrating the Sauk chief the park is named for.
Plans for the shade structure to be installed in the park have been modified to include three glass panels that will feature texts explaining the role of Project Green in the creation of the park, the history of the park in the 70s and the life of Chief Black Hawk. A new color pattern for the park’s paving bricks that recalls elements the mural “The Spirit of Black Hawk” that was once on the western wall of the park has also been introduced.
Black Hawk Mini Park will also be the site of the story wall celebrating the history of Iowa City. Plans for the improvement project call for two story walls to hide transformers and utilities cabinets. The history wall will have a timeline of Iowa City history, and include the names of prominent local citizens, past and present. The city is currently accepting nominations from the public to determine who should be featured on the wall.
The other story wall, which will be located near the Clinton Street entrance to the Ped Mall, will be dedicated to Iowa City’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature, and feature the text of the poem “Writers in a Café” by Marvin Bell, Iowa’s first poet laureate. Bell attended the meeting at the Sheraton, and the presentation began with him reading his poem.
Introducing Bell, Coyier explained, “This poem was written on the eve of Iowa City’s 2008 bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature.” Earlier this month, President Trump withdrew the United States from UNESCO, but City of Literature Executive Director John Kenyon said at the time that he didn’t believe the withdrawal would affect Iowa City’s UNESCO status. No one at the meeting on Thursday mentioned this piece of recent history.
Construction on the Ped Mall improvement project is scheduled to begin in April 2018 and finish in November 2019.