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Posts Tagged ‘downtown’

BY NATE BERG

As Las Vegas’s historic westside faces change, residents ask, who benefits?

As Las Vegas’s historic Westside faces change, residents ask, who benefits?

From the August 2016 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

At the start of a three-day design charrette in a small Las Vegas community center, one of the first questions Steven Clarke, ASLA, asked the 100-person crowd was how many had participated in a design charrette before. “About 80 percent of them raised their hands,” says Clarke, a fair-haired 45-year-old from Winnipeg, Manitoba, who was new to this group of people, many of whom weren’t particularly happy to be doing another charrette. The purpose of the current exercise was to focus on the historic Westside neighborhood of Las Vegas, which has been a marginalized African American neighborhood since the early 20th century. Many of the community members who had gathered wanted to know what would be different this time around, Clarke says. The skepticism quickly boiled into anger. Some demanded to know how the charrette process would do anything to create jobs in the neighborhood. Others demanded to know how much Clarke was being paid, and by whom. “It got extremely tense,” he says. “It was probably the most challenging charrette I’ve faced in my career.”

The Westside was once the healthy heart of the city’s African American community. Today the area is largely vacant, a wasteland of urban disinvestment. The neighborhood’s blocks hold more than 200 empty lots and dozens of abandoned buildings and burned-out houses. The main commercial strip is a ghost town. Its few businesses—a minimarket, a barbecue joint, a clothing shop—are modest, and foot traffic is all but nonexistent. Down a side street, residents of an apartment building are hosting what looks like a regular sidewalk sale of old vacuum cleaners and electronics. A few blocks away, a middle-aged sex worker sits on a curb and halfheartedly propositions the few cars that drive past.

Just on the other side of intersecting freeways, less than half a mile away, is (more…)

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BY NATE BERG

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Agence Ter has won a bake-off to redesign Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles for the fifth or sixth time. Or is it the seventh?

From the June 2016 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

On a warm May weekday morning, Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles was, as usual, a bit of a hybrid wasteland. Office workers crossed through as homeless people sprawled across concrete benches. Half the park was closed off for a row of plywood vendor booths related to an upcoming event. A father and son played alone in one of the park’s newly built playgrounds. People walking dogs veered toward the small patches of dirt that break up the park’s vast expanse of sun-baked concrete.

In the middle of the park, under a sheet of black fabric, stood the park’s potential future, a product of an eight-month international design competition. The winning design, unveiled for a crowd of about 75 people, reimagines the park as a wide-open public plaza, with large grassy areas, plentiful shade trees, and a large constructed canopy stretching the entire length of the space. It would be “a timeless design able to grow with a changing community and city,” Henri Bava, a founder of the Paris-based lead of the winning team, Agence Ter, told the crowd. “We will make sure that Pershing Square will become, once again, the dynamic heart of Los Angeles.”

History alone would seem to dictate that Pershing Square is due for a demolition. It’s a predictable cycle for the once and perhaps future (more…)

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This season marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and the city of New Orleans finds there is still a long way to go to fully heal. But there are a lot of great revitalization stories, including those involving the beloved green spaces at the heart of the city, old and new. This three-minute video highlights four of these spaces, including the 2013 ASLA award-winning Lafitte Greenway by Design Workshop, which connects City Park to downtown, and Arnold Park, which plays host to Jazz in the Park, a free, weekly concert from September to October.

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BY MIMI ZEIGER

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To revive downtown, the city appears poised to drive right through a masterpiece.

From the December 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

The city of Fresno sits in the middle of California’s San Joaquin Valley. When you drive into town from Los Angeles, the landscape is agricultural and framed by roadside eucalyptus trees. It gives way to off-ramp clusters of gas stations, fast-food chains, and light industrial warehouses. Most of Fresno’s neighborhoods, after nearly 50 years of decentralization and flight from the urban core, sprawl north, tracking the edge of the San Joaquin River. The city’s historic downtown and civic center are a near ghost town.

At the heart of downtown is the Fulton Mall. In the early part of the 20th century, it was Fresno’s main drag, Fulton Street, six blocks lined with banks and department stores. In 1964, the landscape architect Garrett Eckbo turned the street into a modernist pedestrian mall as part of a master plan for downtown Fresno by Victor Gruen Associates. Photographs of the period show a wide promenade full of people flanked by the awnings of existing buildings. Daffodils peek out of Eckbo’s sculptural planting beds, fountains gurgle, and a clock tower by Jan de Swart, an expressive interpretation of a historic form, unambiguously marks the mall as the new town square.

Today, the mall is the center of a fight over downtown Fresno’s redevelopment. The city government, with a $14 million federal transportation grant, supports plans to put a new complete street down the center of the mall. Preservationists plan to file a lawsuit to block the scheme. The rhetorical standoff between sides comes down to revive versus destroy, but the conditions on the ground tell a more complicated story about the role of design as a catalyst and a scapegoat in a changing urban landscape.

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