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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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.”
TransformKC is underway in Kansas City, and the dozens of projects on display are provoking discussion on topics from public transit to energy infrastructure. A joint effort between the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance (KCRTA) and the American Institute of Architects Kansas City (AIA KC) Young Architects Forum (YAF), TransformKC curated built and unbuilt work around the topic of “regional mobility” in an attempt to “inspire the public’s imagination.” Explore all of the submissions here. Categories include architecture, infrastructure, planning, transit stations and urban design. The exhibition is on display in the East Hall of Kansas City, Missouri’s Union Station through October 25. Some work is local, like BNIM’s Better Block KC. Part of the 2011 Grand Boulevard Streetscape Plan, Better Block KC “envisions a safe, livable and walkable downtown” that uses complete street concepts. Disclosure: The Architect’s Newspaper is a media sponsor, and AN contributor Gunnar Hand served as the exhibition’s co-chair. Here are a few of the high-profile projects from outside Kansas City: BIG: Loop City Bjarke Ingels Group looks to a new light rail loop connecting 20 development zones around the 4-square-mile inner city of Copenhagen. They propose tying energy and water infrastructure into the rail line, creating “an artery of true urbanity pumping life into the heart of the suburbs.” KPF: Hudson Yards See AN's coverage of Kohn Pedersen Fox’s Hudson Yards towers here. SOM: Denver Union Station Skidmore, Owings and Merrill's plan calls for turning the historic Denver station into a multi-modal transportation network. John Gendall looked into the project for AN's feature on master planning.
Last Thursday in his keynote address to the Transit Oriented Los Angeles conference, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the creation of the "Great Streets Initiative." In an executive directive—his first since taking office on June 30—Garcetti outlined a program that "will focus on developing streets that activate the public realm, provide economic revitalization, and support great neighborhoods." Garcetti defined "great streets" as accessible and walkable, with landscaping, shade, larger sidewalks, improved storm water drainage and green features. Turning to aesthetics, Garcetti said simply: "design matters." Los Angeles' streets should make room for sculptures and murals, and not just functional components, he argued. The "Great Streets Working Group" will direct the initiative. Led by Garcetti's Deputy Mayor of City Services, the gathering will include representatives of Departments of Planning, Cultural Affairs, Transportation, and Economic & Workforce Development, plus the Department of Public Works's Bureaus of Engineering, Street Services, Street Lighting, and Sanitation. Their first task will be to develop a plan in which 40 streets are identified for upgrades.
That old saw about how you can't take public space with you is bound for the trash heap. Landscape architect John Bela, co-founder of San Francisco–based Rebar, and artist Tim Wolfer of N55 have developed Parkcycle Swarm, a green space initiative that puts people and green space together—on wheels. The basic Parkcycle module is a mobile green space made of an aluminum frame, plywood, standard bicycle parts, and astroturf. Each one measures 2.6 feet tall, 4 feet wide, and 7.4 feet long. Parkcycles offer instant open space to neighborhoods. All users have to do is park the Parkcycle and sprawl out on the turf to enjoy a bottle of beaujolais or play some hackie sack. Four of the small mobile parks are currently making the rounds at the Participate public arts festival in Baku, Azerbaijan. Rebar initially experimented with the Parkcycle concept for one of its famous Park(ing) Days in San Francisco. The company's website explains the concept as a “human-powered open space distribution system designed for agile movement within the existing auto-centric urban infrastructure.” Copenhagen-based public art group N55 sees Parkcycle as an alternative to top down urban development with each Parkcycle forming an individual component within a larger system. As more and more people construct their own Parkcycles, they can come together to form swarms, taking over their local urban environments. Each bicycle-park can be modified and designed to follow local bicycle standards. Additionally, N55 proposes that the Parkcycles could be equipped with small pavilions, trees, solar panels, and even portable grills and mobile kitchens. The original Parkcycle was built in collaboration with California-based kinetic sculptor Reuben Margolin and debuted in 2007. Photos courtesy Tim Wolfer / N55 and Yarat.
Streets occupy nearly a quarter of New York City's land, however there are limited outdoor spaces to socialize, sit, and enjoy city life outside of parks. As part of an effort to improve the quality of public space for all New Yorkers, the NYC Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) has been developing new public open space by converting underutilized street spaces into pedestrian plazas. With dozens of plazas already open and functioning across the city, the NYCDOT has been looking to polish the new spaces, installing permanent designs, improved benches, and now, specially designed signs to showcase public art. Ten art display cases were on view from May through late August 2013 at Brooklyn’s Willoughby Plaza—one of the city’s first asphalt strips once dedicated to cars and subsequently transformed into a pedestrian space. The signs were part of NYCDOT's Urban Art Program and were part of its inaugural show titled There is no US Without U. The sail-like panels were designed by the NYC-based architectural and urban design firm Architecture Research Office (ARO) and were fabricated by Rhode Island–based custom composite construction leader Goetz Composites. Each panel is composed of three integrated elements: a sail-like field material involving an anti-graffiti coating, beveled panel edges clad in stainless steel, and stainless steel panel bases connecting the panels to the ground. The idea takes inspiration partially from recreational equipment and incorporates materials typically associated with boats. DOT sought a prominent boat builder to collaborate with the design team to create the construction details and assemble the prototype, which was exhibited last year at Bogardus Plaza and Water and Whitehall Plaza. Through an art therapy program at the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System, veterans created the featured artwork shown on the new display kiosks. The exhibit will now be moved other public spaces around New York City. All images by James Ewing / Courtesy NYCDOT.
Connecting two existing waterfronts—Battery Park and East River Park—the rehabilitation of the East River Esplanade has been a catalyst of renewal along Manhattan's East River. The latest phase of the plan—by SHoP Architects and Ken Smith Workshop—extends the current three-block-long Esplanade north, adding recreational amenities and addresses the challenges of building a new landscape beneath an elevated highway between Catherine Slip and Pike Slip in Lower Manhattan.. The so-called "Package 4" aims to create a "front porch" for the Lower East Side by introducing new street furniture such as conversation benches, bar stools, lounge chairs, picnic tables, and swing sets hanging from the FDR highway overpass. The new plan also includes the prospective installation of amenities such as elevated exercise platforms, a skate park, games tables, a synthetic turf field, waterfront fishing docks, and multiple bike paths. The project’s designers wish to integrate a significant amount of perspective and dimension on the site by conserving already-existing open lawns, installing light fixtures under the FDR highway overpass, building multi-leveled seating and benches, and planting a diversity of foliage. Pending approval from the New York City Council and City Planning, the project should be complete by Spring 2015.
For Detroit citizens escaping to the beach just became as easy as taking a trip downtown. The city’s urban beach opened at the end of June in Campus Martius, transforming one Detroit’s downtown traffic islands on Woodward Avenue into actual island oasis complete with 150 tons of sand. Downtown Detroit Partnership was motivated to bring a temporary beach to the neighborhood by France’s Paris Plages plan that creates temporary sandy strips along the Seine river. For Detroit the sandy retreat is integrated into the city’s greater revitalization efforts to create economic development and bring active and accessible public spaces into everyday life. And while there are no rolling waves crashing in on Detroit’s sand island it still offers a place to lunch, socialize, or just kick back. So if you’re in Detroit this summer throw on your flip-flops and head for the shores of Woodward Avenue.
The median of a downtown stretch of State Street is now home to the latest of Chicago’s People Spots, a series of parklets sprinkled throughout the city as part of its “Make Way for People” program. Dubbed "The Gateway," the portion of State Street between Lake Street and Wacker Drive features shaded tables and chairs in what the city is calling its first “People Plaza.” Flowerboxes, banners, and bright red and blue colors lighten up the otherwise utilitarian median. While the spot’s central location is probably its greatest asset in attracting visitors, satisfying views of downtown’s architectural gems impart some elegance to the straightforward design. Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein, 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly, and Chicago Loop Alliance Executive Director Michael Edward were on hand Friday to dedicate the space, touting business opportunities for nearby restaurants and bars. The goal of the program is to activate public space for placemaking's sake, with economic development expected for nearby retail corridors. A cleaning team will service The Gateway from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. each day through the end of September, according to a press release from the Chicago Loop Alliance. On Saturday, the city is hosting a bicycle tour of the People Spots in Andersonville and Bronzeville.
The Urban Land Institute (ULI) has announced five finalists for the Urban Open Space Award, a competition identifying exceptional examples of flourishing public open spaces that have encouraged economic and social rejuvenation within their neighborhoods. To qualify for the competition, projects must have been open to the public for a minimum of one year and a maximum of fifteen years. The open spaces must also be situated predominately outside, offer ample and diverse seating, sun and shade, and plantings, among other specific requirements. Brooklyn Bridge Park (Pictured at top) New York, New York Project Owner: Brooklyn Bridge Park Designer: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates From ULI: More than 32 acres have been built, including Pier 1, Pier 5, Pier 6, Squibb Park and Bridge, and Jane’s Carousel. New elements include Pier 5, the park’s first active recreation pier, and Squibb Park Bridge, which provides a vital circulation link to the surrounding community and public transit. The park’s greenway serves as a major connective thread through the park and along Brooklyn’s East River waterfront. Cumberland Park Nashville, Tennessee Project Owner: Metro Nashville Parks and Recreation Department Lead Design Consultant: Hargreaves Associates From ULI: Cumberland Park demonstrates Nashville’s commitment both to its children and to sustainability through brownfield remediation, floodplain preservation, stormwater harvesting, improved biodiversity, and interpretation of cultural and natural resources. It is a park that showcases its distinctive site qualities to attract families for imaginative play, events, and interaction with Nashville’s rich riverfront history. Cumberland Park and the neighboring redeveloped Bridge Building are the first constructed phases of a master plan prioritized to draw residents and visitors back to the river and downtown. The Village on False Creek Vancouver, British Columbia Project Owner: City of Vancouver Designer: PWL Partnership Landscape Architects From ULI: Located on a previously industrialized 80-acre waterfront site, The Village on False Creek, Vancouver’s premier sustainable neighborhood, exemplifies a new green-infrastructure-based approach to the public realm through the introduction of restored natural environments into a highly urban community. The public realm is composed of Hinge Park, Habitat Island, a waterfront park, and neighborhood streets. Together they provide multiple and varied recreational opportunities while acting as kidneys for the neighborhood, cleansing stormwater runoff before it reaches the ocean. The Yards Park Washington D.C. Project Owner: District of Columbia Designer: M. Paul Friedberg & Partners; Developer: Forest City From ULI: The goals of Yards Park are to bring Washingtonians to the Anacostia River, provide a transformative and vibrant public space, and generate social, economic, and ecological value. Yards Park offers an eclectic blend of human-scale experiences; active and passive spaces; custom furniture, shade structures, and plantings; and differentiated elements such as a sculptural bridge, public art by Jamie Carpenter, and various circulation paths and water features. In 5.7 acres, Yards Park eschews monumental scale for a series of outdoor rooms that rotate around central organizing elements of water and topographic change. Its programming strategy includes both large-scale festivals and smaller gatherings. Yards Park serves as cultural anchor to the Yards and the greater Capitol Riverfront area, reconnecting the city’s grid to the water. Wilmington Waterfront Park Wilmington, California Project Owner: Port of Los Angeles Designer: Sasaki Associates From ULI: Wilmington Waterfront Park, comprising nearly 30 acres, mediates the relationship between the residential neighborhood of Wilmington and the intensely active Port of Los Angeles. Reclaiming derelict, industrial brownfield land as new public open space, the park serves as a new recreational amenity while mitigating the threat of hazardous environmental waste, air and noise pollution, and dangerous industrial traffic from neighborhood streets. The park provides a safe, accessible new public realm; celebrates the vibrant community culture; interprets the site’s past; and creates a new memorable destination within a previously underserved neighborhood of Los Angeles.
In increasingly violent episodes, protesters clashed with police this week in a park located in one of Istanbul’s busiest commercial hubs. A crowd began to occupy the Taksim Gezi Park on Monday in an attempt to protect the public space and its trees from bulldozers that had begun to clear the site for construction of a shopping mall. On Thursday morning, police used tear gas on the crowd and set afire their tents. But crowds only increased during the next 24 hours, and an early morning teargas raid on Friday resulted in over 100 injuries, some serious, according to the Istanbul Medical Chamber. Occupation of the park, which is located near one of the city’s busiest commercial centers, quickly became symbolic of a much larger issue: the current government’s lack of tolerance for free speech in public. Attempts by the police to clear the occupiers over several days only drew larger and larger crowds in support the protesters. The Guardian noted that a dearth of coverage of this week’s events in the mainstream Turkish media suggested that the government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had exerted undue influence over press and television to play down the unrest. The Taksim metro station was temporarily closed following the clashes. Amnesty International issued a release denouncing the actions of the police, while a joint statement of the groups Urban Movements Istanbul and Habitat International Coalition implored international press to shine a light on the events and also called on the Olympic Committee to remove Istanbul from its list of cities being considered for the summer 2020 games, arguing that photo and video documentation of the police violence “ are enough proof of how the government violates the ideals of the Olympics.” As of Friday evening, a local court had suspended further construction activity on the shopping mall, known as the Topçu Barracks Project after the army barracks originally housed on the site. Taksim Gezi Park, having been cleared by the police, remains closed to the public. But the protests, now anti-government in nature, have spread beyond the city to the Turkish capital of Ankara, where 5,000 people gathered in the streets on Friday. Al Jazeera followed the events on its live stream page.
The entrance to the Holland Tunnel, a maze of traffic and complicated pedestrian crossings, finally has some much-needed open space. Thursday, the Hudson Square Connection, the Business Improvement District (BID) for the area, along with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, announced the opening of Freeman Plaza West, a new public space outfitted with bistro-style tables and chairs, umbrellas, and greenery, including four trees planted in honor of four members of Port Authority Police Department’s Holland Tunnel Command who lost their lives in the line of duty on September 11th 2001. After securing a 5-year lease (with renewal options) for the plaza from the Port Authority, the Connection spent $200,000 on transforming the closed space into a gathering area for the residents and for the more than 50,000 people working in Hudson Square. “The Hudson Square neighborhood is a creative hub in the city and is really starved for open space,” said Ellen Baer, president of the Hudson Square Connection. Freeman Plaza West is one of several public spaces that will be unveiled within the next few years. Last fall, the Connection launched its five-year plan to update and enliven the public realm with substantial improvements to Soho Square and Spring, Varick, and Hudson Streets. This $27 million plan will include a variety of enhancements from planting beds and pocket gardens to curbside seating and widened sidewalks. The Connection has also tapped Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects to help with the landscape design program. "If this works, we may do a few other temporary spaces," said Baer. "We have no shortage of ideas."