From Los Angeles to Chicago, city governments across the nation have been following San Francisco’s early lead and popping up parklets on their streets, mini sidewalk-side public parks for rest, small group gatherings, and people watching. This summer, Boston joined in on the trend, installing its first parklet in Mission Hill in September and another in Jamaica Plain at Hyde Square. While these spaces have seen success in other cities, the Boston Globe reported that the Boston parklets have shown disappointing usage during what should have been their prime season. Although no scientific surveys have been collected, observations from nearby business owners, community members, and the Globe staff have indicated that these new whimsical spaces in Boston are not seeing much traffic. Boston Transportation Department planning director Vineet Gupta admitted that the city government was expecting a lot more of a parklet embrace from the community, but assured that the low usage during this fall’s debut is only a side effect of the newness of the streetscape change. Each parklet cost around $15,000 to $25,000. “This is true for parklets; it’s true for bike lanes; it’s true for bus lanes—it’s true for any innovation in the transportation world,” Gupta told the Globe. “Initially, you don’t see the kind of use that one would hope, but things pick up.” However, Boston officials are now wondering whether they should go back to the drawing board on the design and placement of these small public spaces. In San Francisco, a parklet’s success often depends on the community’s need for public seating and the site’s distance from a full-scale park or public plaza. In Chicago, some parklets have been planted with water retaining vegetation and installed in flood zones, creating a dual community benefit. Even elsewhere in Massachusetts, a Lexington parklet was first created as a bike corral to gauge public opinion. Gupta commented that the Transportation Department plans to conduct official public surveys next year for solutions to increase Boston parklet popularity. “In many instances from around the country, it’s a little bit of a learning process, and each location is unique,” he said. “We’re learning and we’re going to make modifications if necessary.”
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This week, Friends of the High Line revealed the design concept for the third and final section of the High Line with a tantalizing set of renderings from James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Beginning at the intersection of 10th Avenue and West 30th Street, the latest addition, known as the High Line at the Rail Yards, will wrap westward around Related Companies’ impending Hudson Yards mega-development before culminating on 34th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues. The highlight of Phase 3 is undoubtedly the large, tree-lined amphitheater that will float above the 10th Avenue and 30th Street. Dubbed the Spur, the lush, verdant bowl will offer an intimate, semi-enclosed seating area and public restrooms, while serving as a gateway to Hudson Yards and the High Line’s final stretch. The whole project, estimated to cost $76 million, is scheduled to open to the public in late 2014, though according to the Friends of the High Line, we may have to wait another year or two for the Spur. Located at the widest section of the elevated park, the Spur will provide an immersive woodland environment just a few blocks from the heart of Midtown. Encircled by wood-be forest of Snakebark maples, black tupelo trees, ferns, perennials and woodland grasses, the space will contain tiered seating amidst a lush, urban wilderness. Combing skyward views of Hudson Yard’s forthcoming skyscrapers with James Corner’s signature naturalism, the Spur will offer what is sure to be a truly unique park experience. Friends of the Highline have committed to raise $36 million, culled form private donations, for the final stage of the the park. Related Companies and Oxford Properties Group, as part of their Hudson Yards development, are on board to contribute $29.2 million to the project’s construction and continued maintenance, while the Bloomberg administration and City Council allocated $11 million in capital funding.
With Detroit bankrupt and under the authority of a state-appointed emergency manager, all options for the city's future are on the table. But not all news out of the infamously depopulated city is about cutting back. A new park downtown broke ground this week, and plans surfaced for a massive urban forest on Detroit’s southeast side. Construction began this week on a downtown park, the future site of Mini Campus Martius. DTE Energy has cleared a parking lot and two small buildings on a roughly triangular patch of land near its “West Downtown” headquarters. Meanwhile, after five years of preparation, a plan to transform 140 acres of vacant land on the city’s southeast side into an urban forest got approval from the state and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. Hantz Farms, a venture of financier John Hantz, will buy the land for more than $500,000, clear 50 abandoned structures, maintain the property and plant 15,000 trees in the coming years. Clearing the land could cost another $600,000. That’s money the people behind Hantz Woodlands hope to recover in time. “This is designed to be a for-profit enterprise,” Hantz Farms’ President Mike Score told The Atlantic Cities. “I can assure you we have a business plan and we don’t have any anxiety about achieving our goals.” That plan begins with building trust among community members, before Hantz gets to planting apple orchards and shrubbery. Score said the transition from blight to burgeoning urban forest should take four years.
The Swedish Transport Administration launched a conceptual design competition in 2011 for a new bridge in Skuru, Sweden. The competition received great national and international response, including one fanciful proposal by Danish firm, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). The competition brief stated that the new bridge should adhere to high aesthetic standards and coincide with the existing bridge and the surrounding valuable cultural and natural landscape. Ingels deploys his characteristic hedonistic sustainability to bring nature onto the bridge itself. While the design only a concept, BIG has presented an innovative structure with the aim to create a symbiotic relationship between infrastructure and nature. The bridge consists of three main elements: a lower level arc-shaped bridge, a linear road bridge above this, and ultra-slim columns which connect the two. The arched bridge is a visual allusion to a hill between both sides of the strait and also responds to the arch of the existing bridge in profile. This space serves as a green pedestrian walkway filled with vegetation and creates an uninterrupted flow of parkland from one shore bank to the other. According to BIG, "Investments in infrastructure are all too often at the expense of the environment—an untouched natural landscape becomes tainted by a highway intersection...Skuru Parkbridge represents a new form of social infrastructure—which is not only aesthetic and environmentally well-integrated with the existing bridge and the natural landscape—but is also socially activating by creating a place and park for the people who live and work on both sides of the strait." All images courtesy BIG.
Los Angeles’s alleys have a bad reputation. They’re perceived, rightly or wrongly, as dirty, dangerous places; havens for illicit activity. All that might change soon, thanks to a demonstration project planned for South Los Angeles' South Park neighborhood. Called the Avalon Green Alley Network Demonstration, the project aims to transform at least eight segments of alleyway into an inviting pedestrian thoroughfare. The Avalon project is an initiative of Parks for People—Los Angeles, a Trust for Public Land program that has been working toward a citywide green alleys program for four years, since the USC Center for Sustainable Cities released a report on Los Angeles’s alleys' potential as environmental and social resources. The report looked at green alleys programs in other large cities, including Chicago and Seattle, and concluded that LA’s 900 linear miles of alleys might be put to use solving another of the city’s major problems: a shortage of public space. What does it mean to “green” an alley? As Laura Ballock and Tori Kjer, both of Parks for People, explained, it’s more than just improving stormwater drainage or providing cafe seating. In South Park, alleys targeted for greening will receive one of two treatments. First-tier alleys will see asphalt pavement replaced with absorptive materials, to reduce stormwater runoff. They’ll also be planted with vegetation and fruit trees and accented with public art. The remaining alleys will be cleaned up and beautified with vines and artwork. One section of alley in the Avalon area will be transformed into a pedestrian mall, with vehicular access prohibited. As important as these physical changes to LA’s alleys may be, they won’t make a real difference unless the city’s residents embrace them. To that end, Parks for People has already done extensive outreach in South Park. According to Kjer, residents who hadn’t previously met their neighbors are working together, attending meetings and forming “green teams” to clean their alleys. On the design side, the demonstration project will include pedestrian-scale elements and other graphic cues to encourage regular use. “We want it to become something so that you don’t avoid alleys, but go down alleys because they look cool, and maybe are better than the sidewalk,” Ballock said. Parks for People chose South Los Angeles as the site of their green alley demonstration project because of the “possibility for real impact,” Kjer said. The area, which has been neglected in previous rounds of infrastructure improvements, is notoriously park-poor. In addition, its proximity to the Los Angeles River means that any reduction in stormwater runoff will aid the local ecology. “We could’ve chosen alleys in a more affluent part of the city, where there would be less barriers to the project. But for the Trust for Public Land, the mission is land for the people, Kjer said. We haven’t even put a shovel in the ground yet, but the work already paying off. It’s definitely worthwhile.”
Plans have been revealed for the reconstruction of London’s famed Crystal Palace and its surrounding 180-acre public park after London's Mayor Boris Johnson, accepted an $800 million investment promise from Shanghai-based investors ZhongRong Group. Constructed in 1851 for the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, a fire ravaged Joseph Paxton’s glass and cast iron structural innovation in 1936. Since then, the area has been mostly abandoned with even the sizable public green space around it largely unused except for temporary events. At the launch event last week, ZhongRong Group announced its funding plans and independent engineering firm, ARUP, revealed their renovation renderings and park design plans. Following the original Victorian design, plans for renovation will restore the Crystal Palace to its former glory with the intention that it become a cultural attraction for England’s capital city. Landscape proposals plan a 21st century update, yet are sensitive to Paxton’s style and the needs of local residents. The new green space will include Italian terraces, a tree-lined “Paxton Axis” boulevard connecting the palace and park to the city center, improved landscaping and lighting, a visitor center, a café, and a refurbishment of the existing concert bowl. The entire project is proposed for completion by 2018.
Minneapolis’ Peavey Plaza, a classic but poorly maintained “park plaza” (to borrow the term its designer, landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg, coined to describe it), has escaped demolition, preservationists announced Friday. The Cultural Landscape Foundation said they’d reached a settlement to preserve the 1975 public space, ending a lawsuit brought by TCLF and the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota in June 2012. It awaits the signature of Mayor R.T. Rybak. Last year, against objections from a coalition of preservationists led by TCLF, Peavey Plaza was slated to be razed. A rift had developed one year prior, after city-led redevelopment plans threatened key elements of the original design, prompting Friedberg and TCLF president Charles Birnbaum to split from the team tasked with bringing the aging modernist plaza up to contemporary standards. “Specific details beyond the general design concept have yet to be established,” read a TCLF press release. “The parties have conducted substantial work with each other on a rehabilitation of the Plaza in good faith with a focus on preservation of the historic elements of the Plaza, while permitting the Plaza to be changed and/or modified in order to achieve some of the objectives of the City.” Peavey Plaza landed on the National Register of Historic Places in January — one of a small fraction of sites on that list with significance in landscape architecture.
As part of a larger vision a pair of skyscrapers in Manhattan's Murray Hill neighborhood, JDS Development Group plans to build a new park at 626 First Avenue. The park will be situated alongside two luxury rental towers designed by SHoP Architects. The towers are scheduled to open in early 2016. While privately owned, the tranquil green space will be available for the public to enjoy. It will incorporate ginkgo trees, crisscrossed granite, and limestone paths, bike parking, seating and a water fountain, according to details revealed by JDS. Renderings Courtesy JDS Development Group / SHoP Architects.
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A Dallas pavilion's exposed structure demanded extremely tight tolerances of Irving, Texas–based fabricator, CT&S.Ten years ago, the Dallas Parks & Recreation Department launched a revitalization project to update 39 decrepit pavilions throughout its park system. One of them—which was to be designed by the New York office of Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta in partnership with local practice Architexas—sat at the mouth of a meadow lined by old pecan and oak trees on the southern side of College Park. Speaking about the site, Snøhetta director Elaine Molinar said, “You're aware you've left the surrounding neighborhood and entered a more rural setting.” This is the feeling that the team wished to encourage in its design for a new pavilion. The team looked to the surrounding foliage for inspiration. The pavilion super structure is made up of miter-joined steel wide flange sections that form continuous columns and rafters. The members feature a variety of angles that, in assembly, create a torqued and folded profile based loosely on shapes found in the park’s tree canopy. The roof and two sides are enclosed with 1/4-inch plate steel bolted to the insides of the structural sections. To meet the city's visibility requirements for safety, the sides were water jet cut in abstracted leaf shapes of varying sizes and densities, resembling dappled sunlight falling through leaves. Though the pavilion is straightforward in design, its execution was a rewarding challenge for the architects and the fabricator. “The form was influenced by the shape of the tree canopies around,” explained John Allender, principal at Architexas. Starting with an orthogonal form in Rhino, the architects pushed the angles to resemble the natural surrounding shapes. The exposed beams and columns on the structure's exterior magnify the twisted form. Since the canted framework is fully exposed, there was zero tolerance for error. “The unforgiving design is a difficult one to build,” said Bruce Witter of Irving, Texas–based fabricator CT&S. “These were tight tolerances, far beyond AWS standards,” he added. After translating the Rhino file to AutoCAD, CT&S laser cut mockups to test the angles. Following a workshop at the fabrication studio, the team took close to 12 weeks to craft the beams and panels, prepare bolt holes, paint the steel, and affix a special waterproof sheet to the ceiling panel. Installing the pavilion over a concrete slab also required considerable preparation and time. During the course of nearly a dozen site visits by designers at Architexas, the fabricators erected the columns and roof beams using 3D scans to ensure the fidelity of the final product. According to Witter, the canted angles injected errors into the digital layout, so hard templates were the most reliable method for a successful installation. “If you don't have the fixed angle, you won't get the reading right,” said Witter. With the heavily collaborative nature of the design, Allender said working with a local fabricator—CT&S' facilities are located 15 miles from the job site—was essential to the success of the project. “There's no way this project could have been done by someone out of town,” he said.
Bjarke Ingels and Michael Van Valkenburgh are teaming up to design Pier 6 at the southern end of Brooklyn Bridge Park. As AN reported, the pier will feature a pastoral landscape terminated by a triangular viewing pavilion called the Mantaray. The landscape and viewing platform will offer unmatched views of the Manhattan skyline and accommodate special events like concerts. Take a look at the gallery of renderings below or read more about the project here. All renderings courtesy BIG and MVVA.
In recent years several proposals have been floated for freeway cap parks in Los Angeles with barely any traction. Until now. On Friday LA City Council voted to have various city departments (including planning and engineering) partner with nonprofit Friends of Park 101 to raise funds for a park that would bridge the 101 Freeway, connecting Downtown's Civic Center with Olvera Street and Union Station. Possible grants could come from local, state, and federal sources. It's still a long way from happening, but this is a big deal. Friends of the Hollywood Central Park have created a function on their web site where users can design their own cap park, but if Park 101 gets some of these funds we could be building a park downtown for real.
Last week Los Angeles councilman, Jose Huizar, announced the formation of a 21-member task force to help re-imagine Pershing Square, the beleaguered central park in the middle of downtown. The group includes local residents, design and architecture experts, business people, and government officials. Huizar said he hoped they could bring "a wide-range of ideas and perspectives to the discussion." They'll also have to develop an agenda and a timeline, and figure out how to fund the project. One possible funding source could be seed money from downtown developments' community benefits funds, according to Huizar's planning director, Tanner Blackman. To help get the discussion going (and shed light on the square's possibilities) Gensler shared its ideas for the square, developed over the last year has as part of its year-long company-wide "Town Square" research and design project. The ambitious goal: to "reconsider the role of public open space in cities." Their studies weighed a dizzying amount of data informing a possible redesign. Who knew there could be so many uses and designs for a park? And who knew that the current iteration could be so out of sync with what's around it. (Well actually, we did know that...) "It's a starting point," said Gensler principal Li Wen. "We'd love to test this model with the park's stakeholders," added associate Brian Glodney. That could be a while off, and there's no telling who will be selected to lead the eventual redesign. But regardless of what direction the square takes one thing is for sure: Gensler has a head start on the competition.