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Designs for Santa Monica Parks Discussed at Joint Meeting  

By Michael Aushenker
For The Lookout News

November 15, 2010 -- Landscape architect James Corner and members of his New York-based design team unveiled the latest version of their plan for a pair of adjacent parks to members of Santa Monica’s community on Saturday. The presentation, held at Santa Monica High School’s cafeteria, kicked off a joint meeting of the Planning Commission and the Recreation and Parks Commission.

Following the vision set by the City’s Civic Center Specific Plan, the new parks––the 31,800-sq. ft Town Square (across from City Hall) and the adjacent, much larger, 100,300-sq. ft. Palisades Garden Walk (PGW)––will be bordered by Main St., Ocean Ave., Colorado Blvd., and a proposed Olympic Ave.

“The biggest challenge for us is that we’re surrounded by the world’s best public spaces,’ Corner told the Lookout. “You have the beach, the pier, the boardwalk, Palisades Park.”

Corner aims to make these parks “another of the great public spaces.” The architect added that, if all goes to schedule, construction will begin in 2012, with the parks opening in early 2014.

Barbara Stinchfield, Santa Monica's Director of Community and Cultural Services, said that a $25-million budget has been allotted for both parks, which take up a combined 7 acres.

“The community reaction has been extremely positive, ” she said. “I’m really interested to see how the community will react [today]. ”

During his slideshow presentation, Corner, renowned for having salvaged a Staten Island landfill and turning it into the ambitious Fresh Kills Park, explained his goals for Santa Monica’s sister parks in-depth.

Corner originally developed three approaches: the open-scheme “Arroyo Wash,” the more sculptural “Arroyo Ravine,” and “The Arroyo Dune,” which was “more intricate with a series of gardens and pathways.”

After the first pair of workshops, Corner’s team adopted the “Wash” scheme with elements from the “Ravine” (views and topography) and “Dune” (paths and trees) versions. Less pavement and more gardens, social areas, bike bays, and towering, postcard-emulating, scenery-framing arches were incorporated into the current plan.

Five big overlooks would deliver postcard views of the beach, the Pier, the Promenade, and other Santa Monica landmarks. A restaurant/bar and outdoor café are also part of the plan.

“I think we can be conservative here with water,” Corner said regarding the parks’ still and running waters. “We don’t have to use thousands of gallons [of recycled water].’ A reflecting pool will preface Town Square.

A subtle trellis system of light cables (“You can barely see it! ”) and sycamore, oak, pine, and ficus groves will also beautify the parks.

Corner stressed that the parks will be a mix of spaces “big and social” and “intimate and peaceful. We want to make this a park that people will want to return to again and again.”

After Corner’s presentation, attendees broke off into small groups to offer their ideas directly at tables headed by Corner’s colleagues. At table J, lead designer Yitian Wang and Public Works’ Merry Norris discussed blueprints of the parks with citizens Grace Phillips, David Feuer, Barbara Ratner and architect Michael Folonis, Michael W. Folonis, Chair of the Santa Monica Architectural Review Board.

Table J. Photo by Frank Gruber

The locals seemed to agree that PGW could use a second direct, diagonal main path to cut through some of the zig-zagging routes described on the plan. Phillips added that one park entrance should capitalize on the flow of traffic coming out of department stores such as Bloomingdale’s.

Feuer thought PGW’s main path should include a bicycle lane, but Phillips balked at the idea, referencing the Santa Monica beach path.

“I’m a big fan of bikes, but these are places with a disastrous mix of people and bikes. I would like to have a place where you don’t have to worry about kids and bikes. ”

“How about a small area where bike parking can be added?” Feuer recommended for areas deeper within the park.

Phillips inquired at length about kid safety regarding one of the park’s walls. Folonis said, “I get a little nervous about vertical walls. If they’re too tall, it really sort of cuts you off. ”

“You want to keep the height for the view though,” Ratner said.

Norris was eager to discuss the bluffs and the ocean view. Folonis told Wang, “Close your eyes, that’s what the view is at night. The ocean is black, but the Santa Monica Mountains at night should be alive with lights. ”

“For me the magic of Santa Monica is the mountains and the ocean together, ” Phillips said.

Wang diligently took copious notes throughout the discussion. Following the community input phase, the attendees returned to the audience-seating area for the joint meeting, headed by Parks and Recs chair Neil Carry. During the meeting, which included members of both committees such as Susan Cloke, Dryden Helgoe, John Petz, Deborah Cohen, Jenna Linnekens, Gerda Newbold, Jennifer Kennedy, Jason Parry, Gwynne Pugh and Hank Koning, the panel discussed ideas submitted by Wang and other table leaders from Corner’s firm.

Saturday afternoon’s assembly was the third public meeting convened to gather community input on the park plans. Corner will continue to incorporate the feedback in his designs, with another workshop scheduled for January.

“We love Santa Monica,” said Corner, in the throes of his first project ever for the city. “The people care about the quality of public discourse. It’s a very engaged, vibrant and positive community. ”


"The biggest challenge for us is that we're surrounded by the world's best public spaces,'"You have the beach, the pier, the boardwalk, Palisades Park."
    James Corner

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