Posts tagged Pasadena

A business front on Lake Street, Pasadena. Photos by Tamar Cotler,

I’ve been living in Pasadena for almost a year now. Even now I can still remember the first time I walked across Green Street. I recognized it as a street very different from most every other street I had visited in Southern California. Besides the amazing ficus trees and all of the fancy restaurants, I noticed Green Street’s landscape design in front of almost every store and restaurant. The street showcases unique expressions of landscaping along its entire length. With property lines easy to distinguish and varying in width, even the thinnest band of property exhibits signs of thoughtful design.

Noticing these details, it sparked thoughts about city renovation and development – specifically the strict guidelines about signage, paving, planting, and other landscape components that I have to follow professionally.

I was curious to see whether Pasadena’s guidelines differ from other cities. When I searched for Pasadena’s design principles I found out the city’s unique style is actually part of an encoded policy. In other words, Pasadena doesn’t look the way it does by chance. An example:

“Measurements and proportions need to relate to and reflect the importance of people, often referred to as “human scale” design… The City will benefit most from creative designs that show individual expression, richness, and variety. It is imperative that the City continues to support this diversity of creative and cultural expression. Likewise, each designer and developer needs to recognize that they are making a lasting contribution to the community. At its best, their work will collectively add interest, variety and distinction to the community.” – an excerpt from Pasadena’s Design Guidelines.

Illustration from the Pasadena Citywide Design Principles guide book, adopted by the City Council, October 21, 2002

When I searched other city design guidelines, I discovered similar ideas in a few of the documents, with similar references to “human scale”, “creative design”, “cultural expression”. Los Angeles neighborhoods like Highland Park have their own civic guidelines. Similarly, further north, Santa Barbara has a city design guideline that shapes the city’s cohesive aesthetic; so does London. But none of them had such a specific description of how unique, varied, and interesting the city should look like as Pasadena.

Here are some example of how this policy works between the businesses and property lines  in Pasadena:

Interesting tiles and paving on Colorado Street.

Thin linear planting areas.

A few small and rich planting areas, as discovered on Green Street.

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All photos by Seth Babb

All photos by Seth Babb

1922-planRalph Cornell was an early Los Angeles landscape architect and plantsman who left a large mark on Southern California’s landscape. I believe he will be the topic of a number of articles in the foreseeable future. But before we get into who he was, let us begin with one of his projects that has endured and is still here today.

Washington Park was an empty lot and natural stream basin that was turned into a sunken garden by Ralph Cornell and horticulturalist Theodore Payne in 1922. The park is characterized by its grade changes which give the landscape a unique enclosed nature that separates the park from the surrounding area.

Expanded in the 1940s under the WPA, Washington Park was redesigned in 2003 with updated amenities, while retaining the historic nature of the park and its surrounding area. The update included the planting to a largely California native palette with the help of the Theodore Payne Foundation.

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The update was completed in 2006, and the planting has fared well in some areas, but not so well in others (most noticeably in the native California plant demonstration garden). But Washington Park remains well used, and an experience you won’t find in the other Pasadena parks designed by Ralph Cornell.