Thoughts from the Public Realm Initiative Council’s March 2nd Quarterly Meeting
by Jonathan Lightfoot, Student Representative for the PRIC
The December quarterly Public Realm Initiative Council meeting reviewed the case study of Klyde Warren Park in Dallas and a conference call with Benjamin Donsky of Biederman Redevelopment Ventures about how his firm’s model of park design and management quickly established Klyde Warren as a destination and hub of public life in the city. This case study, along with the Council’s various experiences in other vibrant public plazas, parks, and promenades have inspired an effort to facilitate the creation of better public spaces close to home here in Orange County, CA. Some great places already exist, such as 4th Street, Santa Ana, or the downtown district in Laguna Beach; but Orange County is notoriously segmented. Without a commonly recognized central public space in the county, there is a need for a multi-nodal public realm. Costs of land, amenities and maintenance can be prohibitive; and design-on-a-budget can result in public places that lack the character to draw interest. A lack of walkability and transit connectedness can also undermine potentially lively public spaces in southern California. Our Council cannot create new places or fix those in need of resuscitation; however, we can use our industry expertise, supplemented with research, to leverage influence and be a catalyst for both. Jason Ficht, Principal at JZMK Partners and Vice Chair of the Council, asked a couple of questions to frame the type of research questions we will target:
Who are the leaders taking part in the design, construction, and management of the public realm in the region?
What are the major projects that are going shaping the public realm of the region? What are case studies in the region for successful PPP’s focused on public realm?
How can public-private partnerships be leveraged – without sacrificing the freedoms of gathering and expression that are vital to successful public spaces?
The Council identified four areas of practical research in which we could engage to further our knowledge and ability to support great public places. The scope of the Council’s research effort is being subdivided into four
categories (see Figure 1): case studies of successful public places both here and abroad; an inventory of existing public spaces that already exist in Orange County, CA; identification of potential client agencies and projects in the county; and identification of potential political and private sector partners and sponsors. The Council split into smaller teams, which will meet independently before the next Council meeting in June to further refine their scope and plan for their research goals. The Council is applying now to present our findings at the Annual Meeting and Expo of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), to be held in October in Los Angeles. This opportunity will be an important step in expanding a coalition of professionals engaged in supporting great public places in Orange County.
Case Study Illustration
Peter Quintanilla, Sr. Urban Designer with Placeworks, shared with the Council examples of high quality public spaces from his personal experiences and samples of planning and design that imagine central community spaces in new planned communities from his work. In London, he highlighted Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square – showing that the best public spaces can be urban or green. Within a 30 minute walk in London, one can transition from paved plazas, to lively parks, to natural landscapes that seem to be miles removed from city life. A significant feature of their success is the lure of walking – to explore the next variation around the winding path ahead.
From his current work, he showed how case studies can impact current and future planning. In conceptual drawings of plans for Tustin near the WW2 Hangars, he imagined a cousin of Barcelona’s Las Ramblas that flowed from the Tustin Train Station to a new public square and further on to the hangars and residential neighborhoods. In Yorba Linda’s SAVI Ranch, an industrial area evolving towards a more residential and mixed use future, he explained the scale and potential by superimposing other successful development footprints (Victoria Gardens and Brea Town Center) to demonstrate the possibility of redesigning the project area.
Our research as a Council will mirror Peter’s illustration: to understand the building blocks of the best public places and to introduce those elements with a local context to lay the foundations for a New Public Realm in Orange County, CA.