People With Diarrhea Must Stay Out of the Fountain
By Michelle Saunders
The ceremony proceeded smoothly, except for the periodic interruptions by emergency vehicles and an enthusiastic homeless man who sat on the front row, cheering and giving standing ovations, before eventually being escorted away by the police.
I did not expect to enjoy the garden as much as I did. Before leaving to cover the event, I was told about “The Wall of Spite,” as residents in the Metropolitan have dubbed the wall that stretches 60 feet from Main to Commerce, separating the garden from their building. I was told that this imposing wall essentially ruins the garden’s aesthetics and divides the space, creating a disharmonious, Berlin Wall-esque expanse in the heart of Downtown. Which is why I had my doubts about this so-called “urban oasis.”
When I entered the garden from Main Street, however, I was greeted by trees and open areas, a grassy knoll, and three interactive fountains. As I strolled the garden and mingled with other attendees, I temporarily forgot about the supposedly garish wall. When I finally remembered, I looked all over for the eyesore, and after a few minutes of searching, I finally located it on the far outskirts of the garden, behind the fountains and picnic tables.
As I made my way over to the wall, I noticed two things.
1. Yes, it is very big and very long.
2. From the Metropolitan building, it would definitely be unpleasant to look at.
Upon reaching the wall, I ran into a Metropolitan resident, who prefers not to be named, who told me that the wall was ugly and that most of the residents in the building hated it and believed that it was a pointless waste of money.
I tracked down Jacob Petersen, the principal architect of the Belo Garden, to explain the reason behind the divisive wall. The wall was a result of failed negotiations between Belo and the Metropolitan, Petersen told me. He says that Belo was more than happy to pay for the garden to extend all the way to the front door of the Metropolitan, but in doing so they would have had to remove the service drive because they didn’t want cars and trucks going through the garden and disturbing the peaceful atmosphere and endangering children at play. The Metropolitan, he says, wasn’t interested in removing the drive, so negotiations stagnated, and the wall was built.
So Petersen tried to make the wall as visually attractive as possible, using Amber Gold granite from India to create a light-colored wall that in the evening will pick up the dancing shadows from the trees and, along with the 9-foot grassy hill, help to enclose the garden and separate it from the busy city around it.
I tend to agree with Petersen. The wall, although enormous and certainly not beautiful, did help to separate the garden from the busy traffic. During my time there, delivery and construction trucks used the service road continuously, and I can’t imagine how much less peaceful the space would have been had the trucks been in plain view.
I wasn’t the only one who thought so, either. Downtown workers lunched at the picnic tables next to the wall and were able to converse freely without delivery vehicles (which would be only a few feet from the tables and benches if the wall wasn’t there), ruining their meal.
Although the wall is not ideal, it was definitely not as bad as I expected it to be. Had Belo and the Metropolitan been able to reach a satisfactory agreement, the wall probably could have been avoided altogether, but as is too often the case with private-public projects, that didn’t happen.
The park does not come without very specific rules, however. An oddly capitalized and detailed sign off to the side of the fountain lays out the rules. Water shoes must be worn in the fountain at all times, dogs are not allowed in the fountain (unless they are service animals), the fountain water is not to be drunk, diapers must not be changed within 6 feet of the fountain, and people ill with serious diseases or diarrhea are prohibited. While I was there, several people led their dogs into the fountain and allowed them to splash around and drink from it, and people walked through the fountain enjoying the mist. No one wore water shoes today, and I can’t imagine that the rule will be strictly followed in the future.
The garden hopes to host weddings and events, but as I walked across areas already littered with dog droppings, I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting their wedding dress in the grass that will inevitably become a dog park for downtown residents.
All things considered, I think the Belo Garden mostly succeeds. I think it is a nice respite, and I was pleased by the amount of people, both downtown workers and residents, I saw enjoying the garden long after the ceremony had ended and the high-profile people and camera crews had left. Obviously the space is not without issues and some legitimate concerns, but hopefully people will respect and use the garden so that it will thrive and not suffer the same fate as the abandoned Thanks-Giving Square.