Pete Jackson (man, they make Jacksons in Everett like they make Barclifts in Olympia, I guess) has some good talk about public space. Really good talk:

We know that gathering places aren’t fungible: High-end condos are no substitute for bowling alleys, for Elks lodges, or for good taverns. … So why not employ a soft-power strategy and carrot our way to more gathering places?

Everett already embraces the Growth Management Act as well as the smart-growth rules it learned from Seattle, our rich uncle to the south. In fact, we embrace the rules with a vengeance, extending 10-year property-tax breaks to condos in the downtown core, all aimed at promoting densification.

With the demise of the Elks, we have a chance to magoozle a planning tool that will distinguish Everett and serve as an example to even Seattle: Adopt the goal of “no net loss” of gathering places and figure it as a kind of “communitarian capitalism.”

We can meet a communitarian-capitalist mission by cribbing from our approach to — and stay with me here — wetlands. Just like wetlands, gathering places have a tangible impact, and the solution is to identify meaningful ways to address net loss.

To achieve a no-net-loss objective, cities could offer developers density bonuses if they create gathering places in the downtown core. Put in 3,000 square feet for the people and you can build an additional floor. Simple, direct, practical.

I like Jackson’s idea, it would be great if developers started seeing the good of building into their development public space that could be used by Elk Clubs, local neighborhood groups. It would be even better for local government to build in incentives.

My worry is that the insentive would go the way of the “community room” at the mall, right next door to the toilet. Rather than putting the public space front and center, or even in the central third of any design, it would be shoved off to the side.

And, when talking about encouraging public use of public space, I’m sure we all have something in mind. Its one thing if we build public space, its another thing to actually have it used the way we intended (diverse, vibrant rather than stagnant, unattractive to most or even dangerous). We should build public space with an idea towards how we want it to be used.