When it became St. Petersburg's first park in 1888, named to honor city founder John Constantine Williams, the downtown square block of leafy trees was meant to offer a quiet respite from the bustle of the streets. Williams Park was St. Petersburg's front porch, which over time played host to society card parties, music recitals, family picnics, folk festivals, weddings and the occasional soap box for the likes of Robert Taft, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. There was a time when Williams Park was as quaint as the city its founder intended. • That was then. Now Williams Park has become a boozy, drug-hazed haven for the city's homeless, less a front porch, more an open-air flophouse. Once a showcase for St. Petersburg's understated civic life and culture, Williams Park now serves as a vivid reminder of the toll the nation's grinding recession took on the most vulnerable of its citizens. • Reclaiming its former charm won't be easy, as long as the park remains a place where dreams go to die in the shadows of memories recalling a city's elegant past. But it's time to try something different — starting with moving the bus stops.
A Times Editorial