Central Square One of Top 10 Great Public Spaces

Keene, NH – The American Planning Association (APA) announced that Central Square has been designated one of 10 Great Public Spaces for 2009 by APA's Great Places in America program. APA Great Places exemplify exceptional character and highlight the role planners and planning play in creating communities of lasting value.

Central Square in Spring

The picturesque Central Square, with a historic New England church as its backdrop, is singled out by APA for its centuries-long role of being at the center of civic affairs in Keene socially, economically and politically. At the same time, it has been important to Keene spatially given its physical location adjoining or within close proximity to the city’s major roads and regional trail system.

Through Great Places in America, APA recognizes unique and authentic characteristics found in three essential components of all communities — streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces. APA Great Places offer better choices for where and how people work and live everyday, places that are enjoyable, safe, and desirable. Such places are defined by many characteristics, including architectural features, accessibility, functionality, and community involvement.

“At the center of  Keene’s civic, economic and social activity, Central Square shows us the importance of planning public spaces into communities,” said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP. “One of the most important roles of a public space is to bring a community together and Central Square does just that -- not only during special events such as the annual Pumpkin Fest, but throughout the year,” he added.

The idea for Central Square did not come from a formal plan, but evolved over time as the community’s needs and resources allowed. In 1828, when a meetinghouse located at the site was torn down, the idea for the town common took root. Despite being a dusty area crossed by roads in every direction, the common was a popular meeting place and served as a public market of sorts.

Today Central Square is far more attractive with shade trees, a bandstand, fountain, benches and seasonal plantings. There’s also a Civil War monument,  erected in 1871 and flanked with a cannon on either side, that was dedicated by James A. Garfield who went on to become the country’s 20th president.

Central Square Historic Pride

Among the most notable properties surrounding Central Square are two listed on National Register of Historic Places: the United Church of Christ built in 1788 and colloquially known as the “Church at the Head of the Square,” and the 1870 Colony Block, a fine example of a Second Empire Victorian commercial building.


Also contributing to the historic architecture surrounding the square is the 1824 Chamberlain Block building that recently underwent a  $2 million facelift. Used by Sears & Roebuck Co.,  until 1993, the 38,000-square-foot building features 12 units of efficiency and one-bedroom affordable housing, offices and shops.

Over time, Central Square has been the site of numerous political debates and canvassing. The practice of displaying flags with candidates’ names stems from the 1856 nomination of New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce for U.S. President. Whigs erected a flag pole over a building across from square with name of Winfield Scott and Democrats responded in like. The Whigs were not to be outdone, however, and cut down a 100-foot tree and raised a 50-foot by 30-foot flag on the common.

The nine other APA 2009 Great Public Spaces are:

East Park, City of Charlevoix, MI
Virginia Beach Boardwalk, Virginia Beach, VA
The Squares of Savannah, Savannah, GA
The Grand Rounds, Minneapolis, MN
Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing, NY
Lincoln Park, Chicago, IL
New Haven Green, New Haven, CT
The Green, Dover, DE
Central Market, Lancaster, PA 

Central Square - Winter Storm

For more information about these spaces, as well as lists of the 2009 APA 10 Great Neighborhoods and 10 Great Streets, visit www.planning.org/greatplaces.

This year's Great Places in America will be celebrated as part of APA's National Community Planning Month in October 2009; for more about the special month, visit www.planning.org/ncpm.

The American Planning Association and its professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners, are dedicated to advancing the art, science and profession of good planning -- physical, economic, and social -- so as to create communities that offer better choices for where and how people work and live. Members of APA help create communities of lasting value and encourage civic leaders, business interests, and citizens to play a meaningful role in creating communities that enrich people's lives. APA has offices in Washington, D.C.,

Chicago, Ill, and Shanghai, China. For more information, visit its website at www.planning.org.

Cenetral Square Shops and Pedestrians