The New York Times had a nice piece the other day on the city’s 50 plus fountains. If there is any quintessential park design feature, it may be the fountain. They were included in earlier plazas (think Rome), the larger parks of the 1800s such as Central Park and all of its cousins acro0ss the country, and they appear in variations today in features such as the “spraypad,” a hybrid of a fountain and a playground.
For city parks to be successful, they need great water features. Yet it takes money to maintain them, and neglecting such facilities can make a real negative impression on visitors and residents. (For instance, the water fountain in Washington, D.C.’s Columbus Circle, just in front of Union Station underwhelms despite its placement in front of one of the nation’s busiest transport hubs.) Instead of investing in large sports complexes and convention centers, smaller and more sustained investment in the public realm of a city can go a long way in creating an environment pleasurable to residents and visitors alike.
And as the Times article points out, things like fountains do not pay for themselves, quoting a parks department official who noted that that his crews retrieved little money — “The homeless people go in there at night and do the job for us.”