Inspiration for Plaza de Panama: Bryant Park, Zócalo and Red Square

Inspiration for Plaza de Panama: Bryant Park, Zócalo and Red Square

Photo courtesy of Balboa Park Central

Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park

Balboa Park visitors now have a place to sit when they visit the Plaza de Panama.

City workers placed 17 tables with chairs and umbrellas in the plaza early Monday. The city plans to add about five more tables and a series of planters in coming weeks, city spokesman Bill Harris said Monday.

The new furniture comes nearly two months after workers kicked cars out of the plaza.

The future of the plaza has long been a topic of fierce debate. After we highlighted a conversation about the space’s potential as “Starbucks Central,” others weighed in with their own ideas.

• Beau Lynott, a VOSD contributor:

What it should not be is a commercialized space, for Starbucks or any other private vendor. There are plenty of urban planners and landscape architects that would be happy to volunteer ideas for the plaza. Maybe seating areas with potted plants/temporary landscaping. Something that allows people to congregate and can be cleared for events.

• Oscar Ramos:

If there is going to be a commercial presence, it should be a local one. I would love to see outdoor furniture, plants, performance spaces, etc., along with cafes and food stalls, even if only temporary (what about a corner of the plaza where we can have a food truck rotation?). But no Starbucks – it isn’t even good coffee.

• Amy Roth, who originally suggested the “Starbucks Central” idea:

Obviously I didn’t mean “Starbucks” literally! I meant it as a metaphor for a comfy home-away-from home-like setting where you could have a snack or drink, read a book or newspaper or electronic device, meet friends even! Any of the ideas that have been submitted would be terrific in my opinion.

• Randy Dotinga, a VOSD contributor:

New York City’s Bryant Park would be a good model … many small tables with chairs where people can work, soak up the sun or chat, plus a few food vendors. As for Starbucks: They have air conditioning, reliable wi-fi and (sometimes) comfy chairs. It’s hard to find an independent coffeehouse with all three, at least in SD. I’ve been to almost all of them (such is the fate of a work-at-home type) and can think of one that meets all those criteria.

• Don Wood:

The ferry piers in Tiburon, Calif., comes to mind. Every weekend, they put out tables and a local restaurant serves people breakfast on the pier. It’s very popular with the locals and people come on the ferry from all over the Bay Area to eat there. The key would be for the city to select the right restaurant operator to team up with a local coffee shop operator to activate the plaza. This option should be looked at as part of city’s staff’s own study of the space.

• Felix Tinkov:

The key for me would be to ensure that nothing permanently be placed in the view corridor along the length of El Prado.

• Peter Schrock:

What is it about California that makes us allergic to open space?

Maybe we should take a closer look at the Piazza San Marcos in Venice, the Zócalo in Mexico City, or (dare I say it) Red Square in Moscow for inspiration. All of these are powerful cultural landmarks made up of mostly empty space.

• Kevin Swanson:

Why not create something truly unique to San Diego? Hardscape materials now exist that clean the air when exposed to sunlight, and are self-cleaning. Use those materials to create a “picture” when seen from the air and patterns on the ground. Inscribe on those pavers “dreams” in pictographs or words. Install a QR code and number that links to a database holding information about the author of the dream and additional information. Make Balboa Park’s plazas and walkways one big canvas for the public. If the pavers are made of interlocking design, “locked” to a grid underneath, and allow for water to percolate between them, the “picture” created by the colored pavers could be changed to match an annual theme for the park. How to pay for it? A “Donations for A Dream” campaign.

“Hardscape” on a grid that has electrical, water, and sewage connections running underneath that could be accessed as necessary for events and activities.

Balboa Park was built as a “City of Dreams” in 1915. Why not truly make it one?

Use of a grid underneath the paving system would allow for removable growing sections as part of the changing landscape of dreams.

Comments have been lightly edited for clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us here

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter for Voice of San Diego and Dagny Salas is the web editor. You can reach them directly at lisa.halverstadt@voiceofsandiego.org and dagny.salas@voiceofsandiego.org.

Voice of San Diego is a nonprofit that depends on you, our readers. Please donateto keep the service strong. Click here to find out more about our supporters and how we operate independently.

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Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

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Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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8 comments
Don Blucher
Don Blucher

The City should issue a few food cart licenses for a Taco stand, hot dog stand, ice cream stand, etc. That would fill the plaza, make good use of the tables & chairs, and bring in revenue to the City Treasurer. We would be the envy of every New Yorker and Chicagoan due to our spectacular weather and friendly natives...........

Don Blucher
Don Blucher subscriber

The City should issue a few food cart licenses for a Taco stand, hot dog stand, ice cream stand, etc. That would fill the plaza, make good use of the tables & chairs, and bring in revenue to the City Treasurer. We would be the envy of every New Yorker and Chicagoan due to our spectacular weather and friendly natives...........

Don Blucher
Don Blucher

Regarding inspiration for our Plaza De Panama, We should look no further than all of our historical pictures of the Plaza during the world exposition from the early 1900's. If we are so committed to the preservation of our beloved park, then we should maintain the original look of the plaza as it was built. This is OUR plaza, not an imitation of some other place in the world.

Don Blucher
Don Blucher subscriber

Regarding inspiration for our Plaza De Panama, We should look no further than all of our historical pictures of the Plaza during the world exposition from the early 1900's. If we are so committed to the preservation of our beloved park, then we should maintain the original look of the plaza as it was built. This is OUR plaza, not an imitation of some other place in the world.

amy roth
amy roth

Peter, I don't get your comment. Piazza St Marco in Venice is the granddaddy of all open-air cafes!! Yes, there's empty space there, too, but I'd argue that's not what it's most famous for. In fact, all throughout Europe, every town has a central plaza filled with tables, chairs and food/drink concessions. People sit around in them for hours every day. We in California are no more "allergic to open space" than anyone else; indeed, we have vast expanses of it! But even in Europe, where space is at a premium, it's the human instinct to fill it with conviviality.

amy roth
amy roth subscribermember

Peter, I don't get your comment. Piazza St Marco in Venice is the granddaddy of all open-air cafes!! Yes, there's empty space there, too, but I'd argue that's not what it's most famous for. In fact, all throughout Europe, every town has a central plaza filled with tables, chairs and food/drink concessions. People sit around in them for hours every day. We in California are no more "allergic to open space" than anyone else; indeed, we have vast expanses of it! But even in Europe, where space is at a premium, it's the human instinct to fill it with conviviality.

Alana Coons
Alana Coons

Exactly Don and is what is required by it's National Landmark Status. There was large areas of grass around the perimeter of the plaza originally, which would reduce the size some and provide grassy picnic areas, and there were more trees as well. Here is a historic image showing, in other historic views there are benches all around the perimeter as well and lighting. The incessant negative innuendo from VOSD on all things PdeP really is getting quite old. You might notice, the ship has sailed and people are reveling in the results that have been implemented with the open Plaza. "The new furniture comes "nearly two months after" workers kicked cars out of the plaza." Really? After almost 3 years of intense battle to stop the destruction of the Jacobs/Sanders project, to wait 2 months to get tables and chairs out on the heels of the Mayor making all of this happen in less than 6 months, is just what? An eternity !? Oh my gosh, NEARLY 2 months! Ever been involved with any kind of large or even medium scale order & ship? And I don't mean Amazon or Zappos.

Alana Coons
Alana Coons subscriber

Exactly Don and is what is required by it's National Landmark Status. There was large areas of grass around the perimeter of the plaza originally, which would reduce the size some and provide grassy picnic areas, and there were more trees as well. Here is a historic image showing, in other historic views there are benches all around the perimeter as well and lighting. The incessant negative innuendo from VOSD on all things PdeP really is getting quite old. You might notice, the ship has sailed and people are reveling in the results that have been implemented with the open Plaza. "The new furniture comes "nearly two months after" workers kicked cars out of the plaza." Really? After almost 3 years of intense battle to stop the destruction of the Jacobs/Sanders project, to wait 2 months to get tables and chairs out on the heels of the Mayor making all of this happen in less than 6 months, is just what? An eternity !? Oh my gosh, NEARLY 2 months! Ever been involved with any kind of large or even medium scale order & ship? And I don't mean Amazon or Zappos.