Fountain in front of Forsyth Park stage will be removed (a little late, but a good idea); a lesson in design

So the fountain in front of the stage in Forsyth Park will be removed — the decorative part, not the spray fountain next to it. If you’ve been among the thousands frustrated over the last four years by the way the fountain forms a de facto moat between performers and the audience, this is big news.

From Eric Curl in the SMN, Forsyth Park stage fountain being removed:

The fountain that was built as part of the sales tax-funded stage project in 2009 is expected to be removed this week and replaced with a landscaped area, according to a memo City Manager Stephanie Cutter sent to the City Council on May 29.

The decision was made after warning signs and 5-foot barricades failed to keep children from playing in the water, even when their parents were present, Cutter said. […]

The spray pool at the site will continue to operate. […]

The removal of the fountain could allow fans to get closer to the stage during performances in which an extended stage is not used for bigger acts, [city spokesperson Bret Bell] said.

Two years ago I posted at length about the design problems: Good intentions + Conflicting agendas = Bad design

That post includes photos of the fountain on a packed day in Forsyth, which also happened to be one of the hottest days to that point in 2012. The spray/play fountain was not on, but the allegedly decorative part of the fountain was on, so the latter was filled with kids — until the police cleared it.

Since the city announced this week that the decorative fountain will be removed, there have been a number of public commentators who have blamed parents for not keeping their kids out of it. But let me defend those parents on three key counts:

1. Design matters. Consider the widened Middleground Road, which has 4-lanes, a median, long straightaways, and little traffic. Is anyone surprised that pretty much every driver significantly exceeds the posted 35 mph limit? The public tends to use public spaces however they have been designed to be used — and that design might say quite different things than the designers’ words. We had a low, pleasant fountain right next to a play fountain — and the play fountain was frequently turned off for no clear reason. Of course kids hoping to play in a fountain on a hot day would get into the “wrong” fountain!

2. Words matter too. Before finishing the fort/”bandshell”/fountain project, city officials and others talked regularly about the interactive fountain. When the fountain was turned on, parents showed up with their kids. Some showed up when the play fountain wasn’t on — and the parents didn’t even know that something wasn’t on. Having been told there was a play fountain, the parents thought the decorative fountain was it. Of course, even if the spray fountain had been turned on all the time, that wouldn’t have kept kids from climbing over the low walls to the decorative part.

3. It’s not just kids who have climbed into the fountain. At least two performers have as well — the drummer for Mutemath last week and Watermelon Slim at the 2013 Savannah Jazz Festival.

The real question now is this: just exactly how will the new space be defined so that we can maximize enjoyment of outdoor shows on the stage? The gulf between fans and performers has really hurt the vibe out there.

Now, if we want to get really serious about improving the design, we need to find out how to elevate performers approximately three more feet above grade — the stage was simply built too low.