Friday, April 29, 2011

The Parks, Mixing and Mashing

From the afternoon session, I must say this was my first time seeing James Burnett speak. I must apologize for jumping the gun lumping him in with most of the landscape urbanists who speak in such jargon-y nonsense and use words like "urbanism" to describe some faux nature. Burnett's design of the Woodall Rogers Park is great. Absolutely great.

Not sure any of the watercolors available online really do it justice. It's organized. It's formal. It's designed for people. It's wonderfully clever structurally, figuring out how to get trees on it without making them look like odd, potted lollipops. It adds enough structure to add verticality and (hopefully) help to block the serpentine like rising and falling of the freeway on both sides.

It's unfortunate though. I find it diametrically opposite to the two "gardens" also known as parks on Main Street. As I've pointed out in the convergence studies of downtown, those two parks are in the absolute perfect location. Perfect to build upon and bookend the success of Main Street. Perfect to revitalize the areas adjacent as they are the precise point where downtown begins to fall apart. However, the designs leave a lot to be desired. Particularly Belo Gardens. Yet another public open space downtown designed for "quiet contemplation."

On. Main. Street... Downtown. Where 100,000 people are everyday (give/take). This killed Thanksgiving Square and everything immediately around it.

As for Main Street Garden, I've made my points about it. Again, perfect location. Great buildings along it. Downtown badly needed some breathing room. A multi-purpose lawn, which bizarrely rises to fall, fighting natural topography. My bigger point is with the over-programming. Which, Burnett himself went out of his way to point out about his design. That he didn't want it cluttered with programming and wish lists that often accompany places/parks trying to be all things to all people. I don't know how coincidental that is given some of the consultants for Woodall Rogers Deck Park reached out to me some time ago to get my opinion of it after I squealed like a baby on an airplane about MSG.

So on Main Street, we've got great sites, perfect for economic development and to work as a centerpiece of neighborhoods in downtown, yet less than desirable designs.

At Woodall Rogers Deck Park, we have a tremendous design, but less than ideal location. I know, I know. Globally, it is supposed to seam together uptown and downtown, provide a new heart of the city as downtown has migrated north, and all of that. However, all the land is immediately spoken for (with the notable exception of the drive-thru (!) bank).. What is to leverage?

Developers I know have poked around on that site, but I'm guessing the bank (or whoever owns it) wants an absurd amount. Way too much given the spaghetti nonsense and non-neighborhood of LoMac to the north. There is no street life because of the suburban road dimensions. How are the new towers in this area supposed to hold value in urban sites without any urbanism? You tell me. I'm glad I didn't buy there. If I was to advise the homeowners associations, I'd suggest pooling money to get redesigns of all the streets in LoMac to protect their investments. But that's just me.

But back to the point, and you know where I'm going with this. It seems to make so much more sense to remove freeways and use the revenue generation from land sales to pay for amenities like parks to stitch areas back together than band-aids, like this one. It will be interesting to watch it going forward because it is impossible not to compare it to the big dig, which besides the absurd $20 billion price tag is both a design and functional disappointment (again, especially at the price). It made an area less bad. Not great. We need great great.