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BY JONATHAN LERNER

A new central plaza in Fort Worth reveals the advantages of—and anxieties about—privately developed public places.

FROM THE FEBRUARY 2016 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Start with the bones. Fort Worth has such good ones.

The downtown grid, established in the mid-19th century, has blocks a modest 200 feet square. So pedestrian scale has been in place from the start. The young Texas city prospered as a meatpacking hub from the 1870s when the railroad arrived, and later as a center of the oil industry, through to the Great Depression. The buildings that went up in those boom decades tended to be unrestrained in both architectural expression and stylistic range. Classical, Romanesque, Renaissance, Mission, Moderne—there was patterned brickwork, carved granite, molded terra-cotta, the odd Gothic turret and mansard roof and deco spire. Exuberance and ornament were the norm.

Fort Worth’s downtown flourished into World War II, but suffered the postwar hollowing out typical of American cities. Still, a critical mass of the early buildings remains standing. A great many have been renovated, and infill construction has been fairly complementary to what survived. The periphery of downtown remains scarred by swaths of surface parking. But there is a reactivated, walkable core that feels intact and has the intricate and varied traditional look the public generally finds attractive. Now, at the heart of this district, Fort Worth has finally received one urban amenity it always lacked: a central plaza. (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

The Promenade at the Metropolitan is a 40,000-square-foot park space serving a mixed-use multifamily building. Photo by Design Collective/Jennifer Hughes.

The developer James Rouse planned Columbia, Maryland, as a tabula rasa New Town in the 1960s, including ample green space woven throughout, a robust public realm, racially integrated housing, and the ability to make a tidy profit. In many ways, this ambition was realized, but with one important exception: the lack of a lively downtown. An inward-facing mall sits at Columbia’s center, looped by a small ring road, but the city has struggled to bring activity back to its center in recent years.

Just across from the mall’s ring road is the Metropolitan, downtown Columbia’s first mixed-use multifamily residential complex. Its signature amenity is a 40,000-square-foot open space called the Promenade, a hybrid playscape and rain garden intended to be a didactic showcase for stormwater retention and native plantings. (The project won a Merit Award from ASLA Maryland last year). The Promenade encourages kids to have some rambunctious fun while learning a thing or two about how these landscapes can shepherd rainwater from the sky to the ground. (more…)

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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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