That's basically what architect Frank Dittenhafer is proposing to do with Continental Square, the aesthetically-challenged intersection at the center of York City that's been depressed by a lack of commerce for decades.
At a public meeting Wednesday, Dittenhafer outlined the ways York could chart a new future for its former hub.
Among his most ambitious recommendations: the addition of interactive water jets he called a "magnet for kids and families," the incorporation of art films that would project onto the sides of buildings and the erection of a glass pavilion marking the entrance to York's 83-year-old underground restrooms.
But, the first step, Dittenhafer said, must be to "get rid of a lot of what's there."
Then, he wants to rebuild Continental Square piece by piece.
The York County Community Foundation's Beautiful York Committee hired Dittenhafer earlier this year to take over the Reclaim Continental Square project after parting ways with a Philadelphia-based firm that started the redesign about a year ago.
Dittenhafer's plan is just a concept at this point. He said the next phase would be to design a much more specific plan. That would produce an estimated project pricetag, allowing the community foundation to begin fundraising.
Three priorities guided the concept's development, Dittenhafer said. They are to unify the square's four quadrants in a single identity, to create an inviting place and to integrate the square's many layers of history.
Dittenhafer recommends removing most of the trees, signs and lights that currently populate the square, making way for a brick foundation that would unite the square's four quadrants and create "a more seamless sense of the area."
New crosswalks, wayfinding signs and, possibly, updated traffic patterns would emphasize pedestrian-friendliness.
"The square is about people - not vehicles - is where we're trying to push it," Dittenhafer said.
At the square's
In the southwest quadrant, Dittenhafer envisions a quiet, "contemplative" structure of falling water to accompany the World War II memorial there. He also wants to keep the honey-locust tree that's been there for 50 years.
"It's sort of like the witness tree from the last time something significant was done at the square," he said.
Dittenhafer is also proposing to use the square's building facades as backdrops for projected art films and history presentations - an idea of "limitless possibilities" that drew rave reviews from the few dozen at Wednesday's meeting.
He proposes using the square's new foundation to tell some of its old stories - showing, for example, the footprint of York's colonial-era courthouse - and finding more deliberate locations for the square's five historic markers.
And, finally, he recommends building a glass pavilion above the underground restrooms - known as the comfort stations - and re-purposing them as a visitor center, coffee shop, retail store, art gallery, historical exhibit, or all of the above.
"Maybe it changes. Maybe it's very flexible," he said.
Calling the surrounding architecture the "most authentic" feature on the square, Dittenhafer proposed illuminating the buildings with up and down lights almost immediately. It can be done before any other renovations and would amount to a "significant transformation of the perception right out of the gate," he said.
Jane Conover, the foundation's vice president of community investment, assured one skeptical business owner at Wednesday's meeting that Beautiful York intends to move forward with Dittenhafer's plan.
"It's not going to sit on a shelf," she said.
- Erin James may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.