Hawthorne Park has an image problem. Often seen as a haven for crime and drugs, it actually is a haven for crime and drugs.
That's the bad Hawthorne.
But Medford's almost-downtown park also is a nice place for community fairs and car shows and just getting out of the office for a sack lunch among great old trees.
That's the good Hawthorne.
The city wants to make bad Hawthorne — and it's never been as bad as its image — go away. And to build in its place a good, new Hawthorne.
The idea is to create a space people feel attracted to, or invested in, or whatever the buzzword is these days. To that end the city has hired Group Mackenzie, a Portland-based design and planning firm, to come up with a plan.
The Mackenzie people held an open meeting attended by about 50 people May 17 and have another planned for 5:30 p.m. June 28 at the American Red Cross at 60 Hawthorne Street, just across the street from the park. But the deadline for on-line citizen input is Saturday. June 8. So if you have an opinion, it's time to pipe up.
Go to http://communitydesignproject.org/hawthorne-park-overview/ and check out the three options for the space, then check into a discussion page that has somehow remained mercifully free of the usual flame-throwing.
Here's an introduction to how the Mackenzie people see the park: "Located in central Medford, sitting right along Bear Creek with easy access to residential neighborhoods, local business and the Greenway Trail, Hawthorne Park provides a unique setting for what will be a vibrant and active open space."
Those are some real assets, for sure. But that's PR speak, otherwise known as seeing the glass half-full. Here's the warts-and-all version: Located in central Medford (under the damned freeway), sitting right along Bear Creek (a stream so polluted that human contact is often not advised) with easy access to residential neighborhoods (some of whose residents occasionally get thrown in jail for their activities in the park) "…
Seriously, those are challenges. But creating a vibrant park that people enjoy year-round is a great goal. And people will be living with our decision for a long time (think of I-5 running through the middle of town). So let's look at the three options on the Web page.
Proposal No. 1 has a plaza entry, a perennial garden and a playground along Jackson Street, and a picnic shelter and splash pad on the Hawthorne Street side. Moving south, there are multi-use courts, separate dog parks for big and small dogs and an aquatic center voters would be asked to approve.
Along Bear Creek there is an overlook, more picnic spots and finally, in that dead space under the freeway, a skate park. In the middle of it all is a large open area where soccer games used to be held before they moved to U.S. Cellular Park.
It looks like a baseball field in the drawings, but that's just for a sense of scale. It's open space. People could stretch out or toss a Frisbee or play soccer or whatever.
Proposal No. 2 leaves the picnic shelter and splash pad in the northeast corner along with food concessions and a play area for small kids. The big kids' area is south of there, the swim center has moved north, and a 1.25-acre dog park that separates big and little dogs occupies the park's southeast corner.
Proposal No. 3 eliminates the Jackson Street entrance and leaves that end of the park pretty much to open space, multi-use courts and parking. The skate park is gone, and the aquatic center has moved almost to Hawthorne Street. The park's south end is now gardens and a picnic shelter, and the restrooms are central.
So choose carefully. A good park is a fine thing. It should draw tourists as well as locals. A bad park is worse than zero. It's a blight.
Some random thoughts:
No public space is complete without park benches except in Las Vegas and prison.
Bear Creek is a community jewel that's been shamefully neglected. Anything to play up the creek — like an interpretive trail — and link both it and the park to the downtown core is a step in the right direction.
The skate park is a great idea, a two-fer. You actually use that godforsaken space under the freeway, and you get those kids, literally, off the streets, yet separate from the families and little kids.
Safety is at the top of many wish lists (see posts on the Web page), understandably. An open design and abundant modern lighting would go a long way toward ending that unsafe feeling.
One thing you can't do is put up a big sign saying NO HOMELESS PEOPLE ALLOWED. Where do you go when you've been kicked out of everyplace else?
If you get it right, everyday people will come in their numbers, and the scruffy-looking men with too much time on their hands that people object to will no longer seem to own the space. Think of cities of varying sizes that have both a large homeless population and great parks: San Francisco, Portland, Eugene, Ashland ... . If you want to take back your parks, go there.
Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.