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Remaking L.A.
Geoff Manaugh, 25 Oct 06

Three major plans for a new state historic park in downtown Los Angeles were revealed to the public last week. Given proper funding, the park will be constructed on what the L.A. Times calls "a slender, 32-acre parcel squeezed between Chinatown and the L.A. River."

The specific competition which inspired these projects comes near-simultaneously with the formulation of a new masterplan for the L.A. river. Together, these offer two perfect excuses for audacious and historically provocative re-considerations of public space in downtown Los Angeles. Accordingly, as the L.A. Times describes it, last week's designs "covered pretty much the entire spectrum of approaches to contemporary landscape architecture," offering "an avalanche of thoughtful design ideas and gestures."

What's truly exciting about the projects, however, according to the L.A. Times, is that they act as "a reminder of how dramatically a single design competition, if well organized, can elevate the level of discussion about planning and urbanism in Los Angeles."

The specifics of the competition – as well as more detailed descriptions of each project – can be found in the article I've been referring to. What deserves more commentary here is this "elevation" of public discussion about the quality – and character – of urban space. It seems worth mentioning, for instance, that the Van Alen Institute in New York City recently hosted its own look at the reinvention of public space. In an exhibition called, appropriately, The Good Life (previously discussed here), an impressive list of globally active architects explored "the most promising paradigms of how 21st century leisure – recreation, fun, education, relaxation – is being designed into the everyday physical realm of the built environment." In the process, the exhibition showed "how such spaces play an essential role in elevating the quality of daily life and urban regeneration... accessible to a variety of cultures and different economic groups."

According to the September 2006 issue of Metropolis, The Good Life offered visitors "a scenic argument" for new forms of public space, from waterfront access to "those transient events that momentarily open up the imagination of city dwellers." The exhibition's overall purpose, Metropolis says, is to "showcas[e] dozens of projects either planned, under construction, or already realized that insert the rare combination of scenic refuge and pure pleasure into the hurly-burly of cities."

This idea – that "scenic refuge and pure pleasure" should be a part of any city – is fundamental to any discussion of the future of Los Angeles, a city notorious for its over-dependence on private automobiles and its miserly provision of open green space.

Returning to the L.A. state historic park competition, then, we find local city planners and interested architects actively reconsidering the city's next phase of expansion – even as they turn inward to face L.A.'s voidlike, and somewhat ironically named, downtown core. As that core enters yet another phase of attempted development, this time burning with the fuel of upscale loft rehabs and residential densification, it is worth re-examining what sort of urban world those future residents might find there awaiting them. Will they gaze out through double-glazed windows upon shimmering acres of treeless concrete, an artificial landscape of heat and asphyxiation installed unthinkingly around every corner? Or will they take long walks with kids and family through interlinked garden parks, watching newly re-greened stretches of the L.A. River flow unhurriedly toward the sea?

As the Times points out, many of these questions are actually in the hands of California's voters.

Next month, Proposition 84 – "earmarking $400 million for parks projects around the state" – is on the Californian ballot. If, indeed, some of that money is made available for the financing of L.A.'s newest state park, then we may find that just one relatively small site downtown can instigate substantial, long-lasting spatial effects elsewhere.

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Despite being the author of this piece, I do want to add that many people - including, possibly, myself - might actually consider long stretches of treeless concrete more amenable to a positive urban experience than walking along a riverbank surrounded by kids. So I don't think that that third to last paragraph up there should be read as quite so self-assured as it now reads to me.

In any case...

Posted by: Geoff Manaugh on 25 Oct 06

sure sure, it sounds great, but it doesn't do anything to deal with the great issue of LA, in fact the only issue of LA: how to redo the city to get public transport to work for all of us. parks, no parks, who gives a rat's ass? if we can't figure out trains/electric buses or whatever, it's all academic. the city won't be livable in the tradional way we think they should be.

Posted by: Robert Green on 25 Oct 06

As someone who lives and commutes in LA, I wholeheartedly support any park plan that is not bordered by freeways. Look at a map of LA and compare the large park spaces to the ones in other cities. From my home in San Gabriel it is impossible to walk to a park. In spite of its fabulous climate, LA is an amazingly ugly city from almost any vantage point. I have come to think that in many cases people consider it a virtue to pave over their backyards so they don't have a lawn to mow. This hatred of the natural world has to be reversed if we are to survive through the 21st century. Transit is only part of a livable city.

Posted by: Patrick Wright on 25 Oct 06

There is an ongoing heated discussion about the three cornfield park schemes at Posters have ranged from the known and loved Alan Loomis & John Kaliski, to the practitioners in the trenches of landscape architecture in Los Angeles.

So who's it going to be? Mo-fO, MLA, or Ha?

the full link is:

Posted by: treekiller on 27 Oct 06

Doctor Who takes three prizes at the National Television Awards in a repeat of its success last year...

Posted by: Spencer Ferreira on 12 Nov 06



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