Quincy Square’s reviving an old community ideal in Bremerton
London’s Trafalgar Square. Paris’ Champs-Elysées. Barcelona’s La Ramblas. Istanbul’s Istiklal. Saint Peter’s Square. Pike Place. Since the Agora of ancient Athens, great cities have had great gathering places — and Bremerton is about to have one, too. The designs released by Rice, Fergus, Miller this month are downright thrilling.
Quincy Square is a proposed public space honoring the local/global/intergalactic/transdimensional music legend with Bremerton roots. “Square” is something of a misnomer, as the brilliance of the space is that it adapts to serve so many different functions. Technically, Quincy Square will be a stretch of Fourth Street between Washington and Pacific, a relatively unused one-lane, one-way street which will be raised to sidewalk grade for a flat, flush surface from storefront to storefront, and surrounded with street trees, food truck hookups, benches, interactive musical sculptures, a busker (street musician) platform, and other features. For special events, the street can be closed from Pacific to the parking garage access points to create a flat mall of festival space, specially adapted for summer outdoor concerts. On a daily basis it will be a multi-modal thoroughfare marked by fine-grained retail and a variety of activity. It provides reasons to come, reasons to stay, and a compartmentalized design that offers different types of use within different zones (performance stage, picnic tables, public piano, etc.).
At this stage, it’s far more than a pipe dream. The project has been awarded $250,000 in federal block grant money, a $300,000 direct appropriation from the state legislature, and additional appropriations from the state commerce and transportation budgets of $200,000 and $150,000, respectively. Mr. Jones, the record-holder for Grammy nominations (80) and producer of Michael Jackson’s albums Thriller and Bad, signed off on the use of his name for the square earlier this year.
What excites me most about the space is what it offers on a “Day by Day” basis, if you catch my drift. Life has been returning to this block, and Quincy Square is coming in at just the right time. The block has been anchored by the restored Roxy Theatre, Dog Days Brewing, Ish Clothing, and Fairfield Inn, but empty storefronts still line this otherwise attractive street. New apartments have been added above the street, and a gastropub, Axe and Arrow, recently moved in. This is not a top-down “urban renewal” project meant to force life back into a dead neighborhood, it’s a reasoned response to a naturally-occurring renaissance that compliments what is already taking place. The Roxy and Admiral theaters offer high culture, but the square offers the inauspicious “popular” culture that is most synonymous with vibrancy in my mind.
Part of the problem with Kitsap’s food truck scene is that it’s hard to know where to find them, unless you follow them on social media and make the food truck itself your destination. Quincy Square offers a gastronomic mecca of activity and so much more, a place epicureans can casually flock to on a weekday to be tempted by an ongoing rotation of culinary interests. Like a mall food court, families can anticipate something for kids and parents alike, with the opportunity to have a night out spending as much or as little as they please. It offers some aspects I appreciated in life overseas, like giving teenagers a productive place to spread their wings. It’s a place designed for lingering, for play, socializing, and grassroots artistry. In economic form, it’s a revival of the time-tested root from which the shopping mall sprouted.
Malls were originally inspired by main streets, but as the internet conquered brick-and-mortar retail in the fields of value and convenience, a new retail economy has emerged, the “experience economy.” Quincy Square offers what the internet can’t and antiseptic malls don’t: a vibrant town square experience, where the most authentic forms of culture can be found manifesting in the form of acoustic ballads and hand-made kabobs.
Fourth Street is a street of indefinite potential that’s gaining steam, but has yet to fully flesh out its identity. Quincy Square spells that identity in bold letters — and a piano-key pavement design that’s meant to be seen from Google Maps’ satellite view. Fourth is lined with historical buildings (as well as some not-so-historical ones), so it only makes sense to tie it to Bremerton’s history-making son. With a free (after 5 p.m.) parking garage on its east end, it’s poised to offer the best of both worlds: ample parking and an open-air pedestrian experience.
We have some fantastic parks and a beautiful boardwalk, but a town square represents a human nexus, an important milestone in cultural development. It represents a breath of fresh air from the increasingly siloed American experience. Architecture and amenities are nice, but there’s no substitute for the palpable sense of excitement some places have. Admittedly, I’m a little biased. Denton, Texas, where I went to college, had a beautiful town square, and it was where everyone went to picnic, read, strum a guitar, go on a date or just people-watch. I have fond memories of good times with friends under sprawling oak trees in 100-degree Texas heat. A town square has been important to me in the past. I’m eager for it to become important to me again.
Quincy Square is refreshing not just for its forward-thinking anticipation of the urban need for a public living room, but for its return to a timeless orientation toward community identity. Great cities are not just massed collections of individual homes and businesses, they have personalities. They celebrate their heroes. They have soul — and who has more soul than Quincy Jones? And who will take the stage next?
Kevin Walthall is a Bremerton resident who writes a regular column for the Kitsap Sun about city living. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.