'Open Space' Summit Draws Observations from Farmlab Attendees

A trio of Farmlab team members attended last week's PUBLIC SPACE LA! -- The 1st AIA Los Angeles Urban Open Space Summit.

Held at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, panelists include past and upcoming Farmlab and Not A Cornfield salon presenters Lewis MacAdams, Jennifer Wolch, and Robert Gottlieb.

Copies of the Farmlab report, "The Cornfield: New Ideas for a Sustainable Park," were distributed, as well.

Farmlab consultant Mike Woo wrote the above report; below, he passes along to this blog a few of his 'Summit' observations:

"The best speaker I heard was Ed Uhlir, project director of Millennium Park in Chicago. Millennium Park is a spectacular downtown space combining public art and performance venues on a former railroad property. Maybe there was a certain inevitability to it being in Chicago, because according to Uhlir, creating the park required an enormous political and fundraising effort which may be easier to pull together in Chicago than in L.A.

"What I personally missed in the day's proceedings was some fundamental re-thinking about the role of an urban park, especially from an 'L.A.' perspective. In other words, instead of waiting for the right political moment for a grand gesture leading to our local version of Central Park, Golden Gate Park, or Millennium Park, maybe there needs to be a radical rethinking of what 'greening the city' means in a city like Los Angeles.

"Maybe a viable alternative would be to embrace the 'privatized urbanism' of L.A. and decentralize efforts to integrate nature with the urban environment. For example, an urban farming version of letting a thousand flowers bloom could mean teaching apartment renters how to grow herbs, or tomatoes, or zucchini out of pots on their balconies, or on their roofs, or on small scraps of land scattered around the metropolis -- instead of waiting for city government to create large urban parks. Maybe the future of open space in L.A. will be many thousands of vertical balcony and rooftop gardens instead of a large horizontal space called a park."

Farmlab consultant, Autumn Rooney, likewise attended 'Open Space.' She, too, shared her post-conference analysis with farmlab.org:

"L.A. is an independent city, that values its privacy and it was built to preserve it. Now L.A needs to come out of it’s shell and live collaboratively. More Public transit would help a lot. Even if we do get more public space we will have to sit in traffic to get there. Many of L.A.’s parks end up neglected and crime-ridden. Improving access through bike paths and buses and trains would help and also provide programming like they do in Chicago & NY, and the way it was at Not A Cornfield. I think L.A. wants more public space, but it still lacks the will to collaborate in order to get it. We can rescue the city from unhealthy development if we decide to do it together.

"I like Mike [Woo]’s idea of inspiring people to make their own parks in pots on their balconies. The Farmlab Agbins are an example of that.

"I also like the Theodore Roosevelt quote that [architecture critic] Robert Campbell offered at the closing of Public Space LA: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

***Sidebar: Quotes from PUBLIC SPACE LA!***
(as compiled by Autumn Rooney)

The Special Problem of Los Angeles

  • “The Private backyards of L.A. are equal to 41 Central Parks.”
    Richard Weinstein / Vice Chair, Architecture & Urban Design UCLA

  • “A culture designed for commercial consumption is not designed to value public space.”
    Richard Weinstein / Vice Chair, Architecture & Urban Design UCLA

  • “L.A. is a city of individuals. The American Dream, single family detached house.”
    Richard Weinstein / Vice Chair, Architecture & Urban Design UCLA

  • “The average city spends $89 per person per year on parks. L.A. spends $30 per person per year.”
    Elva Yañez / Executive Director, Audubon Center at Debs Park

  • “Making public space a priority starts with the youth.”
    David McNeill / Executive Director, Baldwin Hills Conservancy

  • “Any idea worth pursuing will take more than one lifetime.”
    Citing someone else -- Lewis MacAdams / Founder, Friends of the Los Angeles River

  • “If it isn’t impossible, I’m not interested anymore.”
    Lewis MacAdams / Founder, Friends of the Los Angeles River

  • "Go to the river and imagine what it could be, make pictures. Out of images is knowing.”
    Lewis MacAdams / Founder, Friends of the Los Angeles River

    The City Perspective

  • “There has been an open space awakening in L.A.”
    Eric Garcetti / City Councilmember

    What is open Space and who owns it?

  • “L.A. was founded on development speculation.”
    Larry Smith / Executive Director, North East Trees

  • “Obstacles for Public space are operations and maintenance”
    Larry Smith / Executive Director, North East Trees

    Sustaining Greatness in Public Spaces; what can L.A. learn from other cities?

  • “Programming is essential for parks to be used.”
    Tupper Thomas / President, Prospect Park Alliance

    Note: Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NY is 580 acres. It is funded as a public/ private partnership. The Prospect Park Alliance is a non-profit that manages maintenance. They also have a community committee made up of representatives from community/cultural organizations.

  • Millennium Park, Chicago, IL
    Ed Uhlir, FAIA

    Note: Millennium Park in Chicago, IL is 24.5 acres. The Frank Geary band shell and the public sculptures such as Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, are major tourist attractions that generate revenue for the park and the city. The Park was also funded by a public/private partnership. The parking garage underneath the park also generates funds for operations. McDonalds sponsored a Cycle Center. A 300 spot bike parking facility with lockers, showers, bike repair and rental services. McDonalds was not allowed to have the Golden arches on the building in order to preserve the integrity of the park aesthetic.

    -- Autumn Rooney

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