The fountains that give Fountain Square its name are back in operation this week.

The construction fencing came down and everything was working in time for Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony — much to the relief of Evanston aldermen who at Tuesday night’s meeting praised the contractor on the nearly half-million dollar project for getting the work done on time.

A year ago the dismal condition of the then non-functioning fountains at Memorial Day led to demands by Mayor Lorraine Morton that something be done to get them fixed — even as the city looks for funding for a total redesign of the public plaza at the intersection of Davis Street and Sherman and Orrington Avenues.

The current fountains, built as a bicentennial project in 1976, is at least the third fountain design at the intersection. The original Victorian-style fountain now lives on in the Merrick Rose Garden at Lake Street and Oak Avenue.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Fountain Square needed a re-design, not a rehab
    While I applaud the city’s use of funds for important projects like this, I think that the $450,000+ used to bring the current fountains back into working order would’ve been better spent on a new design. The condition of the plaza has been rapidly deteriorating for years, and the redesign of this space should’ve been funded before it became a non-functioning eyesore that sparked irate comments from our mayor.

    The current design is awkward, tired and uncomfortable for pedestrians to use. The built-in seating is arranged in such a fashion that one feels very enclosed and isolated from their surroundings. The plaza is both difficult to walk through because of its maze like layout, and difficult to sit in because of the awkward heights and placement of benches. The nooks and dark corners in the design collect trash. The fountains themselves are not well built or designed, and will likely need another overhaul in just a few years to keep them running. The plaza is supposedly a memorial to our veterans, but the plaques and towers that “honor” them appear to be added on as an afterthought.

    A great urban plaza should be highly visible and observable, safe, well lit, comfortable, sociable, clean and so on. The current Fountain Square design seems to fail on almost all of these points. What we have is not a great urban space, but rather the perfect place for a bum to sleep. While Fountain Square might be fine as a drive-by feature now that the fountains are running again, anyone spending more than a few minutes in it will quickly find themselves wanting to move on to someplace better. A great urban plaza should be designed for this site, and if it were done properly people would WANT to spend time there people watching, reading a book, eating ice cream, or whatever. A great urban plaza in that location would be the stimulus that the Orrington Ave retailers are looking for.

    As a licensed landscape architect, I am embarrassed that this poorly designed plaza is both the focal point of our urban core, and the best design Evanston could come up with to honor our veterans and provide a place for people to enjoy. I am embarrassed that our public officials chose to spend a large chunk of money on rehabbing the current 30 year old design, rather than spending that money to properly re-design the space. It also seems to me that with several developers interested in property nearby, getting one of them to fund a redesign is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, now that we’ve spent all this money on fixing the current design, we are probably stuck with it for a while.

    So, yes… I too am happy the fountains are on again, but I’m also disappointed that our civic leaders yet again demonstrated their failure to recognize the importance of good design.

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