Telling a community’s story is often about creating places and landscapes that are authentic historic or contemporary interpretations for each unique place. Often the results can be compelling images of change that balances today’s needs with the rich history and culture of the past. At it’s most successful it tells a memorable and imaginative story that enriches the users experience.
These experiences compel us to engage in the surroundings. These stories make us want to come back often to the place. They become that ‘snapshot’ or ‘Instagram’ post that we share with our friends and family. Our recent work for the University of West Florida Historic Trust’s Museum Plaza in downtown Pensacola and Market Square Park in downtown High Springs are great illustrations of creative community storytelling.
Keys to Creative Storytelling
At Marquis Latimer + Halback, Inc., our process of creative storytelling for a community or place is the most important component of our planning, design and implementation of any project. This process has four important components or steps. These are also our firm’s core values.
Listen – become partners with your community’s constituents, share and experience their aspirations.
Interpret – engage in thoughtful, in-depth, and meaningful research and analysis. Thoroughly understand their story.
Create – be innovative in sculpting the place.
Share – every landscape should tell a story of authentic experiences.
Telling Pensacola’s Story
The culmination of the University of West Florida Historic Trust’s Museum Plaza has been a 5-year process to reimagine and re-envision the coreof the State-Owned historic properties in downtown Pensacola. The site is at the heart of the original Spanish and British forts that once protected the ‘City of Five Flags.’ With nearly five centuries of discovery, industry, and archaeology, there are many layers of history and levels to the story to be told.
The new Museum Plaza transforms the connectivity and educational gathering areas of the UWF Historic Trust. Where three parking lots once sat, the new multi-purpose, cultural activity plaza serves as a central connection point between the T.T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum, Pensacola Children’s Museum, Voices of Pensacola multicultural center and the Historic Pensacola Village, while doubling as an outdoor classroom that helps the public better understand the historic landscape.
The motivation for the project initially was focused on the UWF Historic Trust properties, but with the assistance of the landscape architecture and planning expertise of Marquis Latimer + Halback, Inc. the possibilities and impact for downtown were broadened.
“The notion of the plaza was to create an urban green space downtown that better ties the eastern part of the historic properties we manage to the Palafox business district, with better lighting, better walkways and to make it more pleasant to look at,” said Rob Overton, executive director for the UWF Historic Trust. “We determined that it could really be a focal point for downtown if we liven it up and tied the two parts of the city together.”
The February 2019 grand opening unveiled multiple venues providing places for learning, engagement, and community events throughout the 1.6 acre site. These include:
- The Commanding Officers’ Compound, an outdoor exhibit that colorfully displays the bands of Spanish, British, and American wall foundations that cross the space;
- The Rose Garden Storytelling Circle, was inspired in its placement by historic plans of the fort and features a “theatre in the round” for first-person historic reenactors;
- The Linda Evans Memorial Education Pavilion, which includes a covered stage and outdoor classroom seating steps; and
- Discovery Square, which blends stories of industry in northwest Florida, from fishing to lumber, into an interactive early learning playground. The playground’s design features unique equipment with colorful letters and numbers, encouraging children to explore and learn while playing.
Given the 450+ years of history on the site for both military and civilian purposes, the archaeology is an invaluable and irreplaceable resource for today’s research and tomorrow’s future discovery. The design team was presented with a challenging mission: implementing a series of vertical structures, such as lights and an educational stage, while keeping a majority of the impacts within the first 11”, which was deemed to be the depth before impacting the Colonial era by a team of archaeologists from the University of West Florida.
The support of the community was integral to the process, including financial support from a range of donors to implement the vision.
The project recently received a 2019 Outstanding Achievement Award for Infill Projects from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation.
Telling High Springs’s Story
The aim of the Market Square master plan is to develop a vision for a central gathering space in the heart of High Springs that interconnects the community, visitors, and businesses. Currently, the site is an abandoned railroad right-of-way, which is owned by CSX but has had the rails and crossing removed. Alachua County and the City of High Springs have been pursuing purchase of the property, which is still ongoing.
Due to its central location to the Town and the opportunity to be part of the County’s “Rails to Trails” network, there are a number of programming and community events that will happen in the space. These opportunities include:
- Entry and arrival signage to help slow traffic entering town from the south and to announce entry into the historic district.
- A new Market Pavilion, as designed by others, to support the Farmer’s Market.
- Central space for the Town Christmas Tree and other holiday events.
- Open space for children and families to gather and play, including a playground, multi-use field, and shaded gazebos.
With each design, the team and City are also looking for compelling ways to tell High Springs’s story. There are three main stories that have been identified through the framework and research process:
- Train ‘Roots’, celebrating the railroad history and role it had in High Springs’s development. Connections to the Rails-to-Trails also make this a natural story.
- Gateway to the Springs, as High Springs sits as the eastern entry point to many of Florida’s iconic and environmentally sensitive springs. Ecotourism is also an important industry in the City.
- Reconnecting in a Small Town. High Springs is a welcome respite of small town charm in a very dynamic county. Visitors from Gainesville, Alachua, and beyond can still enjoy the slower pace and closer connections of this place.
Market Square is envisioned as a dynamic central park for the City of High Springs. The design is oriented around a central pathway (the Rails-to-Trails link), and organic landscape forms. This community gathering space begins with the entry monument signage, a threshold dividing the vehicular movements along Highway 45 / Main Street from the pedestrian and bicycle zone.
The entry signage also evokes the small-town charm of High Springs with a nod to the natural beauty of the springs. Local “Ocala limestone” is used in the design. The sign itself, along with a recommended speed table and crosswalk, are within the FDOT (versus CSX) right-of-way.
- On the east side of the square, a new central plaza, or “community porch”, spans from the replica Train Station (current Chamber of Commerce Building) to a new stage structure on the south. The existing caboose at City Hall is recommended to be relocated in this area as well, helping to reinforce the history of High Springs.
- The curving Rails-to-Trail pathway continues from the east (alongside the upcoming Market Pavilion and lawn) and heads westward in a sculpted “cypress dome” landform.
- The cypress dome continues on the west side, flanking the entry signage and creating more open lawn space for farmer’s markets, Pioneer Days events, and open recreation. Finally, a fenced play area on the west terminus helps to create a family-oriented activity node.
Together, the University of West Florida Historic Trust’s Museum Plaza and High Springs Market Square demonstrate authentic examples of ‘telling a community’s story’.