Keene’s downtown is the most visible, walkable area in the community, so it is important that the streetscape design continue to communicate and enhance that character. The provision of a streetscape with generous sidewalks, attractive lighting, street trees and plantings, and a variety of street furniture creates a welcoming atmosphere for pedestrians and provides visual cues about downtown.
Stormwater best management practices (BMPs) and native plantings should be integrated into the landscaping to display Keene’s sustainable vision. Incorporation of BMPs throughout downtown as well as in redeveloped areas will help create a walkable community and creatively manage stormwater runoff.
Street trees and other plantings are part of Keene’s larger green infrastructure network formed by parks and green corridors. They enhance the aesthetics of the street by defining travel corridors. Street trees also make sidewalks 5 to 15 degrees cooler, increasing both the comfort of the space, and the life of concrete and asphalt pavement. Trees reduce the negative health effects of vehicle pollution and have been shown to reduce blood pressure and improve overall emotional health. Members of the community feel strongly about providing street trees, seeing them as a link to Keene’s history as the “Elm City,” when elm trees were pervasive throughout the community. The city should expand its existing tree program into a full urban forestry program.
A healthy mix of pedestrian and vehicular activity is another indicator of a vibrant downtown. Though the urge to firmly separate these activities is strong, in great civic spaces these uses often overlap. Keene’s Central Square is an example of this juxtaposition.
Pedestrians should not feel that one side of the street is isolated from the other and should feel safe crossing downtown streets. Keene has already successfully implemented traffic-calming techniques in the downtown core by including corner bulb-outs and clearly marked crosswalks, and by slightly narrowing driving lanes. Expanding this infrastructure to other areas of downtown will help create a walkable community.
Central Square One of Top 10 Great Public Spaces
Keene, NH – The American Planning Association (APA) announced that Central Square has been designated one of 10 Great Public Spaces for 2009 by APA’s Great Places in America program. APA Great Places exemplify exceptional character and highlight the role planners and planning play in creating communities of lasting value.
The picturesque Central Square, with a historic New England church as its backdrop, is singled out by APA for its centuries-long role of being at the center of civic affairs in Keene socially, economically and politically. At the same time, it has been important to Keene spatially given its physical location adjoining or within close proximity to the city’s major roads and regional trail system.
Through Great Places in America, APA recognizes unique and authentic characteristics found in three essential components of all communities – streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces. APA Great Places offer better choices for where and how people work and live everyday, places that are enjoyable, safe, and desirable. Such places are defined by many characteristics, including architectural features, accessibility, functionality, and community involvement.
“At the center of Keene’s civic, economic and social activity, Central Square shows us the importance of planning public spaces into communities,” said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP. “One of the most important roles of a public space is to bring a community together and Central Square does just that – not only during special events such as the annual Pumpkin Fest, but throughout the year,” he added.
The idea for Central Square did not come from a formal plan, but evolved over time as the community’s needs and resources allowed. In 1828, when a meetinghouse located at the site was torn down, the idea for the town common took root. Despite being a dusty area crossed by roads in every direction, the common was a popular meeting place and served as a public market of sorts.
Over the years, improvements have been made leading up to the present day Central Square that features a bandstand, fountain, benches, trees, seasonal plantings, and monuments. Today the square remains what it started out as – the heart of the community.