Editorial: Design by elimination is easy, practical for municipal spaces

Friday, September 22, 2017

Many interior designers and decorators are all about minimalism and “less is more.” Decluttering is all the rage. Recently, the village of South Deerfield unveiled its own version of decluttering, municipal style, with results that may be of interest to other towns.

Sugarloaf Street resident Jane Trigere enlisted the help of other residents who value their town common to form an ad-hoc committee. One of the members was a student from the Conway School of Landscape Design, Emily Cohen. Cohen documented things like traffic patterns, parking, plants and trees, water runoff and walkways.

She found design elements that weren’t cohesive. Over time, as the village evolved, walkways once leading to long-gone buildings came to lead nowhere, ghost paths to the past. Meanwhile, items were added without any being removed.

The committee decided to remove parking signs, informational notices, an off-kilter concrete post — small subtractions that made a big visual difference.

Looking ahead, Trigere said the committee will look at simple, inexpensive upgrades like turning around a bench so that all three benches on the triangular common face each other, creating a community space.

“Design by elimination is easy,” Trigere noted.

It’s also comparatively inexpensive.

Instead of multi-year projects requiring research into grant-funding, design by elimination can be implemented using equipment owned and operated by the town highway department.

Admittedly, there are levels of approval that have to happen before public spaces are modified. In South Deerfield, that involved approval by Police Chief John Paciorek Jr., and Keven Scarborough, highway department superintendent. But it’s still far simpler and a better return on investment than a wholesale streetscape makeover.

It’s possible to enhance the functionality and increase the use of common areas with the application of a little municipal feng shui. It all starts with a vision and the willingness to look at familiar spaces from a fresh perspective.

“It’s a good first step,” said Trigere.

It’s a step that residents of any town might find both fun and enlightening.