These are heady times for public space advocates. At long last the promotion of streets, sidewalks, parks and playgrounds has become part of the eminent design and development dialogue, and with it hopefully the recognition of the needs and rights of the user.
This certainly is the situation in California where the approval of parklets, and other smaller scaled, vest pocket, public projects are being hotly pursued, and in other cities where the noble if not naive Occupy movement raised the profile and purpose of public space.
Do we sense a subtle shift in the too often pedantic world of planning and design from private conceits to public conscious constructs, and in of all places Los Angeles, as evidenced by the heralded dedication this summer of a new downtown park?
To be sure, the first phase of the 12 acre park is a promising space, linking in a series of terraces edged by select plantings and brightly painted seating, from the neomodern Music Center to the west to the neoclassical City Hall to the east. Helping in particular these dog days of summer is a refurbished memorial fountain that invites wading and splashing, as well as the office workers out of the adjacent government buildings.
Convinced the real challenge in planning and design these dog days is placemaking, my convivial colleague Rhett Beavers and I have been exploring the potential of a variety of fringe and derelict sites under the banner of the Landscape Architecture program at UCLA Extension. With big and brutalistic no longer winning the hearts and minds of the discerning public, we are thinking small and green.
The High Line curving through the west Chelsea section of Manhattan bordering the Hudson River has to be one of the most successful planning and design stories in New York City in recent years, touted as a crowning achievement of the reign of Mayor Bloomberg, to be emulated in cities across the country.
Testimonials and awards not withstanding, I am wary of the cloying elitism of a crowing Bloomberg. Having followed the project’s promotions for the last decade and the community’s evolution for the last half century, I am skeptical of its heralded success. And with the recent sounding of related development controversies, a second opinion is in order.
One of my prerogatives teaching a landscape design studio exploring public space at UCLA Extension is being able to pick the class projects with which to challenge the students. Time for them to get real and get down, walk the streets, wallow in the sites; to see, hear, smell, taste and touch.
Me and my colleague, the loquacious landscape legend Rhett Beavers, are in effect the clients, the students the professional consultants, and the particular projects our whim, no matter how it might be a sugar coated pedanticism in the school’s offering of an urban laboratory.
Like the rare Corpse flower that blooms every several years, the Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects is planning to publish yet a new magazine exploring and extolling local design, how it impacts “our everyday life,” and “who architects are as people.” Such an effort at such a time deserves notice.
There is a certain irony in community stalwarts in testy Greenwich Village wanting to have the stale housing slabs hovering over the bland park composing Washington Square Village declared an architectural landmark that will somehow thwart New York University from overdeveloping further the singular super block.
“Fugataboutit,” would be a relative polite New Yorker’s observation by anyone who has ever been to this dance before, as I have. The plea is really just a feint to get the retro-redevelopment realists involved into a backroom of one of the proposal’s big buck backers to splice and dice the project so it can be swallowed by all without choking to a political death.
Planetizen is honored to welcome Sam Hall Kaplan to Interchange, our daily blog featuring opinions and commentary from esteemed professionals such as himself. Many of you will need no introduction to Sam or his work. For those of you that do, a quick summary.