There will be a sharply felt side-effect when crews begin building the new Center for Science and Innovation in the heart of the main campus. When construction barriers are erected at the end of this semester, Harney Plaza, which currently serves as the university’s quad, will be out of commission for at least one year.
It can be easy to dismiss the overhaul of Harney Plaza as another run-of-the-mill logistics challenge common to other capital improvements that have taken place at USF. Earlier in the year, for example, we reported the progress of University Center renovations. In these instances, we covered the challenges and, for the most part, minor inconveniences posed by construction work.
But whatever the impact on the student population these other renovations may have, none will have such an affect on the quality of student life as the closure of Harney Plaza.
On any given day with decent weather, Harney Plaza is a hub of campus life. Over the course of a typical semester, the plaza takes on the roles of student forum, impromptu stage, recreation area, event area, demonstration space, flea market, farmers market, and lunch seating. For all the recent worthwhile efforts to increase student breakout space across campus, only a few of these spaces approach the visibility and the capacity for the high level of traffic that Harney Plaza hosts daily.
As Harney prepares to undergo major construction work, plans call for the transfer the plaza’s functions to the lawn fronting Gleeson Library; this is an important accommodation. This does not mean, however, that student involvement is invulnerable to decline. Restricting and relocating the long-assumed center of student life after decades of continual use is sure to have a disorienting and displacing effect on the student population. With that in mind, and in our consistently stated interest of keeping the undergraduate voice strong, vibrant and visible, we want to emphasize the following:
First, the new plaza in front of Gleeson must become a reality. It is our job to communicate that the need for this space is a top priority, and not an afterthought in the scheme of the USF’s capital improvements.
Second, the new plaza must be visible and have as many of the capabilities of the current Harney Plaza as possible. While we cannot expect a replica of Harney, it should be sizable and demarcated by some defining features; it should not simply be the existing, unaltered grass expanse to which student events can be shunted aside. As the new focus of student life, the plaza needs to be maintained as the campus’ focus, not just as another lawn.
This last point is the most important and rests on the initiative of the student body: Use the space. Walk by it, sunbathe, eat lunch, put on a concert, read a book; the goal is to just keep it populated. Ultimately, how well the undergraduate population maintains the consistency of its institutions depends largely on how it negotiates these transitional years of large and frequent campus makeovers. These things must be kept in mind when plywood walls encase what will formerly be known as Harney Plaza on May 24.
Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy
Chief Copy-Editor: Natalie Cappetta
Opinion Editor: Vincent Patino