Making a village green successful

On a Saturday afternoon in late December former Senator John Edwards announced his candidacy for President of the United States before a crowd of 5,000 people gathered on the one-acre green at Southern Village, a new urbanist neighborhood in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In doing so, Edwards bypassed arenas, large auditoriums, and historic public spaces  in the region. The event illustrates, says Southern Village developer D.R. Bryan, how the creators of new urbanist public greens and squares can never imagine all the uses they will serve.
Successful public greens and plazas have their own personalities, which evolve over time. Some have been outdoor rooms for decades — even centuries. The one-acre green on Market Street in Southern Village is only seven years old. But in that short time, this grassy focal point of the village center has established a clear identity as a destination for events and entertainment for both the neighborhood and the broader community. Though the green space is owned by the village merchants’ association, it is available for public use.
Village center developers D.R. Bryan and John Fugo have devoted time, resources and creativity toward making the green lively and well known. When the N.C. Symphony gave its first outdoor concert in Southern Village, Bryan and Fugo saw violinists and cellists performing in the street. They quickly decided to build a stone stage at the head of the green. Now the annual symphony concert, which attracts more than 2,000 listeners in lawn chairs or on blankets, is enhanced with a canopy and special lighting.
Since 2000, the Market Street village green has hosted outdoor movies every Friday and Saturday night at dusk during the warm months. Sponsored by the village center’s Lumina Theatre, this is the only outdoor movie venue in town. Occasionally a special event precedes the movie, such as the wine-tasting that preceded the showing of Sideways.
Every Thursday from May through August, local farmers set up on the green and sell produce, meat, dairy products and baked goods. This regular market attracts shoppers from beyond the neighborhood, who find it a colorful and social way to end a summer afternoon.
On Sunday evenings throughout the summer, Market Street sponsors a concert by area musicians. This Summer Music Series includes jazz, rock, bluegrass, Gilbert and Sullivan, rockabilly, and opera. For three years running, a local theater group has produced A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, and  The Importance of Being Ernest.
Other annual happenings include a dog parade, Halloween celebration, Family Fun Day, an Easter egg hunt, a Christmas tree lighting, and a 5K run. The green is available to local nonprofits for fundraisers, and is regularly used by groups such as Special Olympics and Habitat for Humanity. Local high school bands and theater groups perform there. A tai chi class is held Saturday mornings in the summer.
“A big reason for our success is that we have put effort into creating programs for the green and publicizing them,” said D.R. Bryan. “But we love for community groups and school groups to use the green. We’re glad that it helps make the village center feel like a welcoming place.”
Rosemary Waldorf, a former mayor of Chapel Hill, is events coordinator and project manager with Bryan Properties in Chapel Hill.