Posts tagged with "Project for Public Spaces":

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From fortress to town square: Los Angeles launches a competition to remake Pershing Square

Ricardo Legorreta’s much maligned design for Pershing Square is getting a makeover. The day after the Los Angeles City Council voted to support a public-private partnership to overhaul the five-acre urban park, councilmember José Huizar and Pershing Square Renew announced an international design competition geared to rethink the open space that now sits ingloriously on top of an underground parking garage. The design competition grew out of a task force established by Huizar, which members of the design, development, and policy communities, including Macarlane Partners, Gensler, NBBJ, JFM Development, LA Recreation & Parks, and the Urban Land Institute. MacFarlane Partners, which is developing 99,000 square-foot site overlooking the square, pledged $1 million pledge to seed Pershing Square Renew. The Department of Recreation and Parks earmarked $1 million for “immediate future for infrastructure improvements and amenities.” In 2013, AN published a series of renderings by Gensler of a reimagined Pershing Square. Rather than being an early entry into the contest, that design was a catalyst for recognizing the space’s potential. The firm is now the Urban Design Advisor to Pershing Square Renew and cannot participate in the competition. Remarks by Huizar at a city hall press conference emphasized the need for community input at every stage of the design process. The stakeholders in Downtown Los Angeles in 2015 are vastly different from 1992 when Legoretta’s project opened. The goal is to make the square more welcoming and accessible to all users. Because there are more residents and businesses downtown, the competition brief stresses that the park needs to accommodate a number of uses at any time of day or night. In early 2015, Project for Public Spaces hosted a series of outreach events and workshops, and a report of activities and programmatic vision is included as part of the competition brief materials. “The architecture doesn’t support use now,” said Huizar of Legorreta’s belltower and brightly colored walls. Frustrated at how “fortress-like” the existing park seems, he hopes instead for a town square. “Use informs design, not design informs use,” he noted. The brief and accompanying report suggests that proposed designs could incorporate surrounding roadways and sidewalks, with occasional street closures for events. One challenge for all design proposals is how to tackle the ramps leading into the parking structure; a hurdle that Gensler’s Brian Glodney described as “Like a moat.” The competition also raises some tough questions about the role of architecture in relationship to placemaking and community engagement. “Our intention is not to create a masterpiece, but to create a canvas that invites the community to create their own masterpieces in how they use the space,” said Eduardo Santana, executive director of Pershing Square Renew. The competition asks for letters of interest to be submitted this month, followed by a request for qualifications in October. A shortlist of firms will be asked to submit proposals to a jury. Finalists will present to the jury in February with a winner announced later that month. The renewed Pershing Square is planned to open in 2020.
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Pedestrians First at Grand Army Plaza

Brooklyn's grandest public space at the top of Prospect Park has always been a work in progress. Grand Army Plaza, an oval-shaped public space composed of monuments ringed by an inner and an outer roadway, was built as the main entrance to the park in 1866, serving as a buffer between nature and city and happened to be the confluence of some of Brooklyn's busiest avenues. Over the years, a monumental archway was added, fountains came and went, and eventually the roads were widened until the lush plaza was effectively cut off from the surrounding Prospect Heights and Park Slope neighborhoods. Last week, however, after months of construction to tame the out-of-control roadways, a group of civic leaders and officials gathered in what was once a busy street to celebrate the newly reclaimed plaza. NYC DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan praised the transformation of the intersection into a real multi-modal space.  She said the changes to Grand Army Plaza are "an incredible invitation into the plaza to appreciate a landmark in a new way." The transformation is not just a boon for pedestrians and cyclists, she continued, but for motorists as well, noting that automobile behaviors have been streamlined and simplified through the oval by new medians and pedestrian islands to reduce merging conflicts. Similar to interventions across the city that shave off unused or excess pavement from roadways to be reallocated to pedestrians, the NYC Department of Transportation has created 71,000 square feet—or about 1.5 acres—of new pedestrian space at Grand Army Plaza. New landscaped pedestrian islands at the plaza's north side (above) help to route traffic more efficiently while shortening the distance pedestrians must cross to get to the park. At the south side (below), a vast swath of asphalt between the Soldier's and Sailor's Arch and the rest of the plaza has been paved with a light-colored gravel and lined with white granite boulders to officially keep traffic out. A similar treatment was put in place at the gates of Prospect Park where weekend Greenmarkets traditionally take place. New pedestrian islands, a large new crosswalk leading directly into the park, and a dedicated bike lane folllowing the Plaza Street loop complete the picture. Grand Army Plaza has been notoriously dangerous. In the late 1920s the plaza featured a large billboard called the "Death-o-Meter" (below) displaying the traffic injuries and fatalities in Brooklyn to promote safer driving in the area. Grassroots efforts to transform Grand Army Plaza into a pedestrian-friendly environment began in 2006 with the formation of the Grand Army Plaza Coalition (GAPCo) comprised of concerned citizens and organizations including the Project for Public Spaces. The coalition gathered widespread community input on how to improve the space producing a design by architect Jan Gehl in 2006 and eventually working with DOT to make their plans reality. In 2008, a design competition with the Design Trust for Public Space garnered inspiring proposals on how to rethink the urban tangle, with most results calling for a radical overhaul of the traffic circle. Plans were finalized during the contentious battle over the nearby Prospect Park West bike lane, but Sadik-Khan told AN the controversy did not affect the designs at Grand Army Plaza. Still, one component—a two-directional protected bike lane along Plaza Street, which creates the outer oval, that was approved in 2010 by community boards 6 and 8—was withheld from plans presented the spring. StreetsBlog pointed out at the time that the lane wasn't fully eliminated, but delayed after some residents were concerned about traffic. "I'm happy with the way the project evolved," said Sadik-Khan. "Adding 1.5 acres of new public space at the crossroads of Brooklyn is an incredible asset." "Over the past 50 years, the plaza has tipped to more street. We tipped it back to pedestrians," said Robert Witherwax, coordinator of GAPCo. "In terms of getting pedestrians into the plaza, it's genius, simple, elegant, and it works." The changes represent NYCDOT's budget approach to creating new public space quickly. A coat of gravel and paint is much more affordable than a completely new streetscape and can be fulfilled much faster. Witherwax said the next step is to program the new space, which could include new events and outfitting the plaza with furniture. "We have a treasury of ideas," he said. "We're making a part of the park useful that wasn't before."

The Rumble in Aspen

Frank Gehry sat down with Tom Pritzker earlier this month at the Aspen Ideas Festival, of which a video was just posted on the Internet, and re-posted above for your viewing pleasure. How we found out about this was through the all-things-Ratner-Gehry-and-Times-related Atlantic Yards Report. Never one not to parse everything related to the above three--and our hats off to him for doing so--Norman Oder discovered the one contentious conversation of the otherwise lovely affair, when Gehry called no less eminent urban thinker Fred Kent of the Project for Public Spaces "a pompous man" for daring to question (admittedly repeatedly and somewhat annoyingly) Gehry's placemaking skills. Yowza. To be fair, this story has been percolating around the blogs since it happened, we just missed it until Norman brought it to our attention. In fact, The Atlantic's James Fallows' original post on the matter bears attention, as that's what got things started--and boy did it ever, as the man's sure got a way with words:
Then the questions from the audience began. The second or third was from a fairly insistent character whose premise was that great "iconic" buildings nonetheless fell short as fully attractive and effective "public places," where people were drawn to congregate and spend time. He said he was challenging Gehry to do even more to make his buildings attractive by this measure too. [For those watching the video, this all starts around the 54:00 mark] [...] But the questioner asked one more time, and Gehry did something I found simply incredible and unforgettable. "You are a pompous man," he said -- and waved his hand in a dismissive gesture, much as Louis XIV might have used to wave away some offending underling. He was unmistakably shooing or waving the questioner away from the microphone, as an inferior -- again, in a gesture hardly ever seen in post-feudal times.
Double yowza! Even more amazing, though, is Gehry's response to Fallows four days later. (How come he doesn't return our calls?):
Dear Mr. Fallows - Fair enough - your impression. I have a few lame excuses. One is that I'm eighty and I get freaked out with petty annoyances more than I ever did when I was younger. Two, I didn't really want to be there - I got caught in it by friends. And three - I do get questions like that and this guy seemed intent on getting himself a pulpit. I think I gave him an opportunity to be specific about his critique. Turns out that he followed Tommy Pritzker [the moderator of Gehry's session] around the next day and badgered him about the same issues. His arguments, according to Tommy, didn't hold much water. I think what annoyed me most was that he was marketing himself at everyone's expense. I apologize for offending you. Thanks for telling me. Best Regards, Frank Gehry
Yowza yowza yowza! The guy puts Woody to shame. And ever since, the drama has been playing itself out on Fallow's blog, the PPS's, Curbed LA, and now, we're happy to say, here. It also begs the question that, if Kent's right, maybe we're all better off without Gehry designing huge swaths of Brooklyn and LA after all. Correction: That was Tom Pritzker, not James Fallows talking to Gehry. Fallows was in the audience. Thanks to Chris Hawthorne for the catch. We've updated our post.