A Different Shade of Green: New Park Design in Los Angeles

One of the perennial complaints about Los Angeles is that it does not have enough public parks, and the call is increasingly urgent as the region gets denser and more people live in apartments or condos without the traditional back yard. (Not everybody agrees parks are so essential; I’ve been re-reading Jane Jacobs recently and she laments the notion of creating open space in cities unless it is tightly woven into a 24-hour urban fabric; and Joseph Giovannini complained to DnA, back in 2004, about incorporating a park into plans for development at Grand Avenue : ”LA has always struggled against the image of itself as a city,” he said then, “because it was founded essentially as a city in a park and this is not the place for a park.” )

Now, in our collective back yard,  a fairly extensive program of park-building is taking place, involving some of the big talents in garden design and landscape architecture. And what’s especially interesting about urban parks today, in LA as elsewhere, is that they are typically not being created on nice swaths of virgin land but rather  on brownfield sites (OC Great Park; Los Angeles State Historic Park), on disused infrastructure (Hollywood Freeway Park), on infill sites (Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square; design sketch, above) and on reclaimed wilderness (Baldwin Hills Park).

So it is very exciting to hear about an exhibit, opening tomorrow, June 2, of New Park Design, hosted by the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, and featuring designs by Ken Smith (Orange County Great Park), Hargreaves Associates (Los Angeles State Historic Park), James Corner and Field Operations (Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square), Rios Clementi Hale (Civic Park), Mia Lehrer (Baldwin Hills Park) and AECOM (Hollywood Freeway Park).

It becomes clear on observing the unfolding of these public park projects that the successful park designer is not only a creator of space; he or she is a diplomat, community organizer and politician, navigating the shoals of numerous and often competing vested interests, from city, county and state bureaucracies to local community groups. One of the masters in this regard is James Corner (in picture, left; from Metropolis magazine). He and his firm, Field Operations, co-created the brilliant High Line in New York, and they are responsible for the  Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square, a new civic park in Santa Monica (which is lucky in having a plentiful supply of parks) that is in design development.  On Monday, June 13, James Corner will talk about “Parks in Urban Environments” at the Santa Monica Main Public Library. Highly recommended.

And if you want hear more about park design in Los Angeles, check out this DnA.