Posts tagged public spaces

There are a few challenges a person faces when moving to a new city. The first is not to incessantly talk about the fact that you just moved. The second is to shed certain habits that are acceptable in your culture, but are not exactly welcome at your new address (like talking all the time…about your move). And the third one is to avoid constant comparisons.

Yet, here I am, taking the opportunity to indulge in some guilty pleasures and compare my new home with my previous address.

All photos: Tamar Cotler

Landscape design and structural regulations can tell us a lot about the culture of a place. I was very surprised to discover United States codes and regulations – at least those that shaped the landscape in the past – are/were more permissive than requirements I was used to dealing with in Israel.

It was back in 2013 while visiting Dolores Park in San Francisco when I first saw the slide above. It blew my mind: a real slide built into a slope anyone can actually climb up and ride down.  When I got back home, I couldn’t stop talking about the slide. I showed colleagues photos from this park, recognizing current Israeli regulations prevent anyone from building a playground onto a slope. In fact, designers aren’t permitted to design anything higher than 2 feet without a fence.

A kindergarten yard in Albany, CA without guard or hand rails. Every stair is a different shape and size, stones are not connected to the ground and ground cover isn’t flattened.

A few days after visiting Dolores Park, I found myself at the Burning Man festival in Nevada where I ended up watching some of my closest friends climb onto one of the many temporary structures built for the desert festival. The worry they were only a slip away from falling to their death grew with each minute. I was suffering from a novel feeling: recognizing the inherent and clear dangers of a design.

I was amazed by the fact that such a creative construction could even exist – the impossibility of its existence in my home country clearly a contrast between “here” and “there”. It was at that moment I figured out I had missed a crucial concept about American culture and its related economy: the ideal of self-responsibility. I was also very confused. On one hand, they say the United States is the “Land of the Free”, while on the other hand, the threat of being sued is a genuine possibility.

A bridge crossing a water and a turtle pond located at the Caltech campus, neither area with guard rails or a fence. Visitors are responsible for keeping themselves from falling.

I’m really not an expert of American history or politics, but as a recent transplant I can identify how the value of self-responsibility could adversely affect safety of public spaces, especially in comparison to social democracies. But as the giant slide in San Francisco and the imaginative Burning Man structures both illustrate, there is definitely a bright side of a “use it at your own risk” society – imaginative pleasures  that could never exist in Israel today.

 

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All photos: Wendy Chan

Amongst the high rise buildings of Downtown Los Angeles are several hidden oases where one can enjoy their lunch, relax, and escape outdoors. There are many privately owned public spaces in Downtown that are hidden, each tucked in between buildings and terrace levels. Privately owned public spaces are publicly accessible plazas that building owners or developers provide in exchange for modification to the local zoning policy. For example, a developer is allowed to increase their leasable floor areas with higher buildings if they provide an outdoor space for the public. But some of these privately owned public spaces aren’t truly “public” due the plaza being locked from the public after work hours; security personal have the option to escort undesirable individuals from these supposed public spaces.

Follow the blue line…

One such terrace plaza space is located between The California Bank and Trust & KPMG building on the corner of 6th and Hope Street. The entrance is located on Hope Street and is accessible by a stairway with a blue line going through the center, leading visitors up to the terrace plaza and Sun Disk.

This plaza is enhanced with a public art component, part of the Public Art Program, organized by the Community Redevelopment Agency, and commissioned by Obayashi America Corporation with the Koll Company. The public art piece is called “Site /Memory / Reflection”. The plaque at the entrance reads, “A single work of art, “Site / Memory / Reflection consists of a numerous sculptural and architectural elements in alignment with each other. These elements draw a site together, relate it to the imagery of the Central Library, and suggest a spiritual universal whole.”

The art pieces were conceived by Lita Albuquerque in collobration with Kohn/Pederson/Fox, Langdon Wilson Architects, The SWA Group, Lonny Gans Associates, and Peter Carlson Enterprise.

The plaza is a great lunch spot, offering a shaded refuge from the sun and surrounding urban sounds of Downtown, mostly drowned out by a water feature named the Hemisphere Fountain. I often observe office workers enjoying their lunches here, conversing with their co-workers, with other Downtown denizens reading or lounging by themselves. The plaza does not appear to be gated from the Hope Street entrance, but there is a gate where the terrace plaza connects to the Central Library. The plaza is fairly quiet with ample seating, and a recommended escape during the summer heat (but it can be a bit chilly during the colder months).

Check out this public plaza oasis the next time you are looking for a spot to eat your lunch in Downtown Los Angeles!

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Photo: Calvin Abe

Photo: AHBE Landscape Architects

I had a dream about 15 years ago about creating a beautiful park at the corner of 4th and Hill Street in Los Angeles. Today, this dream has become an embarrassment, completely closed to the public. I designed it. But more importantly I believe it is a shameful reminder of our societal value of nature and open space.

Photo: Calvin Abe

Photo: Calvin Abe

Abandoned, closed, and fenced off for over five years ago, Angel’s Flight Park has been an eyesore and a constant reminder of our forgotten unmaintained parks in the city. Angel’s Flight Park was decommissioned when the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (LA/CRA) was forced to shut down by the Governor’s budget cutbacks caused by the 2008 recession. It was over 15 years ago that the LA/CRA, in partnership with LA Metro, came together to fund the enhancement to an important Bunker Hill subway portal. The plaza was a deliberate urban design move to connect the portal to the historic Angel’s Flight Funicular (also closed due to budget cutbacks). It was also intended to provide a shady respite and offer public open space for the adjacent Grand Central Market visitors and local residents.

Photo: AHBE Landscape Architects

Photo: AHBE Landscape Architects

Photo: AHBE Landscape Architects

Photo: AHBE Landscape Architects

Maybe there is the possibility of a renewed dream to end this nightmare of the Angel’s Flight Park.