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BY JARED BREY

As the pandemic slows projects, Philadelphia has a chance to rethink a difficult public space.

FROM THE DECEMBER 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Most of Philadelphia was still asleep when city workers pulled the nine-foot-high statue of Frank Rizzo off the concrete steps of the Municipal Services Building across from City Hall, loaded it into a truck, and carted it off to an undisclosed storage locker. It was early June, and by then, the Rizzo statue, which depicted in monumental proportions the racist former mayor and bully cop, had been a target of protesters for years. They had tugged on it with ropes and chains, tried to set it on fire, yarn-bombed it with a pink bikini, and covered it in a white Ku Klux Klan hood. In late May it became a focal point of protests again. Long lines of police began standing guard in front of the statue daily. Officially, they were guarding the Municipal Services Building, but as the police presence grew, it began to seem like they were there to protect the statue or the very legacy of Rizzo himself.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney had previously said the statue would be removed as part of an eventual redesign of Thomas Paine Plaza, the elevated public podium that surrounds the Municipal Services Building. But in a statement that day, explaining the sudden overnight removal of the statue, he acknowledged that tying its removal to the long-term plans for a plaza makeover, rather than the immediate and repeated demands of protesters, was “a mistake.”

“The statue is a deplorable monument to racism, bigotry, and police brutality for members of the Black community, the LGBTQ community, and many others,” Kenney said.

Still, for days after the statue was removed, police officers and military service members remained stationed at Paine Plaza as if they were occupying a hill, looking down on the surrounding sidewalks from the high corners of its concrete walls. Pennsylvania National Guardsmen holding rifles and dressed in fatigues blocked access from the street. “Why are the cops being paid to watch this?” someone wrote in chalk on the west wall. Long after the military left town and the police force on site dwindled—up until the time this story went to print—loose security fencing remained around the entire perimeter of the plaza, vaguely suggesting that passersby shouldn’t enter the space, even as city workers and skateboarders nonchalantly passed through the gaps in the fencing. With the provocation of the Rizzo statue gone, Thomas Paine Plaza was exposed: an overbuilt space with no apparent purpose, overpoliced for no discernible reason. What was it supposed to be? (more…)

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The Silver in the City storefront in Indianapolis features the names of African Americans who have lost their lives to police violence. AP Photo/Michael Conroy.

After hearing feedback from our membership and after much reflection, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) issues the following statement regarding the killing of George Floyd:

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) joins millions of people around the world in mourning the death of George Floyd, a black man who was murdered by a police officer.

ASLA recognizes that the brutal systems of slavery and Jim Crowism have dehumanized black people and weakened their communities. We also acknowledge that the planning and design of the built environment, including landscape architecture, has often had a disproportionate adverse impact on black communities. Systemic racism in the built environment has taken many forms, including redlining, urban renewal, and disinvestment. Environmental injustices, including lack of equitable access to clean air and water and greater concentrations of pollution, continue to plague these communities. Further, gentrification and displacement make it impossible for black communities to continue to exist. The landscape architecture profession can play a critical role in reversing these trends.

A mural of George Floyd, near the spot where he died while in police custody in Minneapolis. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews.

Public spaces have always been a critically important platform for the protest movement and democratic change. They have also become sites of violent confrontation and oppression against the black community. It is important that ASLA and others amplify the black narrative of these spaces.

ASLA stands in solidarity with black communities in the fight against racial injustice and police violence against black people. Moving forward, ASLA will deepen our partnership with the Black Landscape Architects Network (BlackLAN) to create a meaningful, sustainable plan of action to help guide the profession in addressing the wants and needs of black communities—no matter how much work and time it takes. Black Lives Matter.

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BY TIM WATERMAN

Piccadilly Circus on a Friday night. Photo by Tim Waterman.

The most noticeable thing before the lockdown was that a sense of threat had crept into every public encounter, and suspicion of contagion was pervasive. Three days in a row, out for a walk, I saw someone fall. First, an old man in a pork pie hat who fell against a bollard on Gerrard Street in Chinatown, still festooned with red lanterns for the Year of the Rat. Then outside the hoardings for the as-yet-unopened new entrance to Tottenham Court Road Underground station on Oxford Street, a young man was collapsed and unresponsive, being attended to by paramedics. In Covent Garden an older woman fell, carrying a bag of medical supplies—a knee brace, possibly—and when my partner and I instinctively went to help, she held up both hands to keep us at bay. Now the government has shut down, for almost a week and indefinitely, pubs, restaurants, and shops, and has ordered people to stay at home except to shop for groceries or to exercise. People are still wary, but are much better at keeping to the rule of maintaining a two-meter distance from all others at all times. This is relatively easy to observe outdoors, but indoors it turns shopping into an odd, halting dance. But in London, where it is unheard of for people to speak to strangers in public, or even to make eye contact, both of these things are seen to happen daily. (more…)

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BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER

Honolulu’s popular Queen Kapi‘olani Park is closed as of Friday, March 20. Photo by Timothy A. Schuler.

It could have been a scene from any number of dystopian films: a group of skateboarders, their faces obscured by bandanas or other makeshift masks, slaloming down an otherwise empty street, the landscape around them—the wide beach, the grassy lawn, the parking lot—deserted. In reality, the scene was one of many strange tableaux in Honolulu this past Friday afternoon, following the closure of city parks and beaches in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, a disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Hawaii is regularly ranked as one of the healthiest states in the nation, and Honolulu is a bustling city with a noticeably active population. Over the past 96 hours, it has become a ghost town. On Saturday, as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases climbed to 48 (which in two days would nearly double), Hawaii’s governor instituted a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all incoming travelers. The next day, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell ordered residents and visitors to “shelter in place” and leave their houses and apartments only for essential services, an order that was later expanded to the entire state. By Monday, Waikiki’s famed hotels sat mostly empty, its shops shuttered as if preparing for a Category 5 hurricane. Along Waikiki Beach, yellow caution tape fluttered from trees and lampposts, encircling public areas and blocking access points as if the entire beachfront were one giant crime scene. (more…)

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BY JONATHAN LERNER

Parks along New York City’s vulnerable waterfront, like the one recently completed at Hunter’s
Point South, are both amenity and armor.

FROM THE MARCH 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Even as the tides lapping at its edges rise, New York City is turning eagerly toward the water to relieve both a congested transit system and a shortfall in housing stock. For example, you can now travel among all five boroughs by ferry. Ferries have several advantages over streets and subways. For the passenger, those include wind in your hair and magnificent, alternately thrilling and calming views of the harbor; for the city, minimal fixed infrastructure and the ability to easily alter routes if circumstances—such as the shorelines themselves—should change. And from the new ferries that ply the East River, you can see the city’s most visible effort to address the housing crunch: clusters of enormous apartment towers recently built and under construction along once-industrial waterfronts.

The city mandates that, with redevelopment, the water’s edge be public space. Some of that is the “waterfront public access area” each newly developed riverside property is required to provide. Those areas must at least have landscape and seating; as built, they vary from quite thoughtful to afterthought. There are also a number of city and state parks along the river. So there is beginning to be a continuous public edge. It will probably always have gaps, but they are filling in as the new housing developments rise. Viewed from out on the water, the chain of public spaces resolves into a thin green line, as much of it consists of esplanades and piers or is otherwise flat. Still, discontinuous and varying in design quality as its component pieces are, they are hugely popular—just because they exist, and also because some of them are truly inspired. That would describe one of the newest of the city-developed pieces. In its case, you do begin to glimpse its features from the river, because it has hills and an architectural overlook jutting up and out toward you. This is, in fact, just where the ferry stops in Long Island City, Queens: Hunter’s Point South Park, designed by Thomas Balsley, FASLA, (whose eponymous firm joined SWA in 2016) in collaboration with Weiss/Manfredi Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism. (more…)

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FOREGROUND

Public Space, No Exceptions (Law)
The Supreme Court in December affirmed that people have a right to sleep in public space when no other options are provided, but homeless advocates see worrisome holes in the net.

Mulligans (Planning)
As golf declines in popularity, the office of Ratio helps Indianapolis fix its oversupply of public courses.

FEATURES

Amazon Fire: Who Owns the Amazon?
Issues of sovereignty and colonialism in the Amazon Basin have long hindered efforts to protect its rain forests. The recent destructive push for development has made those conflicts more urgent.

Lethal Glass Landscapes
North American wild bird populations have dropped by almost 30 percent since 1970. Landscape
architects are working with policy makers to avoid the collisions that kill birds in cities.

Editorial Discretion
For a lakeside residential compound in Vermont, Wagner Hodgson weaves together
old and new elements with a few striking moves.

All this plus the regular Now and Goods columns. The full table of contents for February can be found here.

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 250 bookstores, including many university stores and independents, as well as at Barnes & Noble. You can also buy single digital issues for only $5.25 at Zinio or order single copies of the print issue from ASLA. Annual subscriptions for LAM are a thrifty $59 for print and $44.25 for digital. Our subscription page has more information on subscription options.

Keep an eye out here on the blog, on the LAM Facebook page, and on our Twitter feed (@landarchmag), as we’ll be posting February articles as the month rolls out.

Credits: “Amazon Fire: Who Owns the Amazon?” AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano; “Lethal Glass Landscapes,” Marek Lipka-Kadaj/Shutterstock.com; “Editorial Discretion,” Jim Westphalen; “Mulligans,” Ratio; “Public Space, No Exceptions,” Brice Maryman, FASLA. 

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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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