FOR decades, downtown’s Fifth Street has been regarded as the city’s “avenue of architecture.”
It contains a mix of different approaches to art and design ranging from the “old,” such as the Irwin Mansion and Gardens and the restored City Hall building, to the “new,” such as the “EOS” sculpture and the former Irwin Union Bank and Trust building by Eero Saarinen.
But for many residents, the anchor has been the Bartholomew County Library by I.M. Pei and, most significant, the plaza in front of it.
That plaza — home to Henry Moore’s “Large Arch” — has become a community icon of special interest to local residents who see it not just as a place of visual beauty but as a retreat for which they feel a unique sense of ownership.
Earlier this month, a couple of dozen local residents responded to a call to participate in discussions about the plaza’s future.
Library officials solicited opinions as they considered plans to refurbish many aspects of this community treasure, which is showing the effects of age and traffic, some of it unwanted.
Many of the aesthetic problems can be resolved by simple maintenance or repairs, such as replacing broken pavers and diseased trees.
Enhanced security also would help. The plaza long has been plagued by skateboarders whose stunts have steadily damaged many of those pavers and steps. While the library staff can monitor the situation during operating hours, neighbors could also help protect the area, contacting police when they notice the acrobats on wheels doing their thing.
It is also vital that accessibility be a priority consideration in any plan to enhance the area.
There is a legitimate question as to whether any plan should go beyond changes like that.
The plaza is an iconic part of the city’s architectural heritage, not just for the Henry Moore sculpture but for the aura that the entire area has created.
It is open and user-friendly. People are able to sit on the steps and ledges in the plaza, reading a book or magazine or just enjoying the day.
Its openness provides a setting for public events and its location is such that large crowds at events — the once popular Popfest series comes to mind — do not disrupt traffic.
Yes, the library plaza can be improved, but it seems that can be achieved without changing the appearance of what is truly a community asset.
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