If you are reading this, you are most likely familiar with the term “plannerd” already. According to Urban Dictionary, plannerd refers to “a planning nerd” or “an urban planner – student or professional – who is heavily involved in following all things planning, city, transportation, development, transit, etc.” I am most definitely a plannerd and spent the past weekend satisfying my hunger for more planning knowledge and experience. Specifically, I had the opportunity to visit the brand new Tongva Park in Santa Monica, check out the Never Built: Los Angeles exhibit, and see Exxopolis at Grand Park.
Last Thursday, I attended a case study and site tour of Tongva Park and the Village at Santa Monica organized by the Urban Land Institute – Los Angeles (ULI-LA). I thoroughly enjoyed the tour which offered participants a sneak peek at the park and adjacent residential/commercial project. I also found it helpful to hear key players from Related California (The Related Companies), the City of Santa Monica, and Valley Crest Landscape Development share their experiences in developing the two projects. Tongva Park is a $46.1-million park that covers seven acres just west of Santa Monica City Hall, two blocks from the beach. It was designed by James Corner, the landscape architect famous for his work on the High Line in New York City. Tongva Park features a series of winding paths and hills planted with a mixture of native and drought-tolerant plants. There are also a number of fountains and water features, a sizable event lawn, a colorful children’s playground, and a public art installation by the artist Inigo Manglano-Ovalle. Overall, I was very impressed by the park and its design. In particular, I really liked the viewing platforms that overlook the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Pier which are wrapped inside oval forms that appear like woven baskets.
I also learned about The Village at Santa Monica which is a $350 million development with 318 residences, 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurants and public plazas and gardens. It combines a mix of 158 luxury condominiums and 160 affordable rental apartments, many with ocean and city views. The Village is the first major residential development built on Santa Monica’s prime Ocean Avenue in the last 20 years, within walking distance to the beach, the Civic Auditorium, 3rd Street Promenade, and Santa Monica Pier. It will have convenient access to public transportation when the Expo Line connecting Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles opens in 2015. The Village is also within a block from Santa Monica Place, an open-air mall that recently completed a $260 million renovation, and across the street from Santa Monica’s art deco City Hall scheduled for a $50 million revitalization.
Never Built: Los Angeles
As I shared in a previous article (“Who Loves L.A. Architecture?“), I had been eagerly waiting for this exhibit to open at the Architecture and Design (A+D) Museum. Well, I finally checked it out last week and it surely did not disappoint. As a planner, I found it very helpful and educational to see visionary works that had the potential to reshape the city, including designs for specific buildings, master plans, proposed park and transportation projects, which could have changed both the physical reality and perception of Los Angeles. The show contains dozens of illustrations exploring a variety of architectural ideas conveyed through blueprints, models, renderings, and the lost art of hand drawing. I was happy to see an original version of the 1930 Olmsted-Bartholomew parks plan, formally entitled the “Parks, Playgrounds and Beaches for the Los Angeles Region” report. This plan proposed a comprehensive and coherent network of parks, playgrounds, schools, beaches, forests, and transportation to promote the social, economic, and environmental vitality of Los Angeles and the health of its residents. It was a model of visionary and bold planning commissioned at a time when land was available and the region’s population was growing tremendously. However, the plan was never adopted and only segments of the report have been implemented to date due to a variety of political, economic, and financial reasons.
I also learned about proposals that I have never heard of. One example is Bible Storyland, which was conceived in the 1950s when Biblical movies such as The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur were highly popular. At the same time, Walt Disney introduced the first theme park, Disneyland. Bible Storyland is an integration of biblical characters, stories and locations and the Disneyland experience. The Ride to Heaven and Dante’s Inferno are among the amusement rides proposed for this never built park. (If anyone is interested, A+D is hosting a special screening of the documentary Bible Storyland on September 28, 2013.) I also found out that Disneyland was originally proposed to be located next to the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. However, after determining that the space was too small and facing opposition from Burbank’s City Council, Disney decided to develop the amusement park in Anaheim instead.
I commend Sam Lubell, Greg Goldin, and Clive Wilkinson Architects for putting together this high quality exhibition. I highly recommend Never Built and encourage everyone to check it out before it closes on October, 13, 2013. Also, if you are an avid reader and/or a collector of books, consider buying a copy of the Never Built book which contains the plans, drawings, models, and images highlighted in the exhibition.
If you were in the Civic Center the past couple of weekends, you should have noticed a large bouncy house-like object at Grand Park. This “bouncy house” is actually Exxopolis, a giant inflatable sculpture that was created by the group called “Architects of Air” and came all the way from Nottingham, England. The 23-foot-tall work of art was only here for two weekends and was free to the public. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to experience the inside (tickets were sold out), but I did catch a glimpse of it from the outside. Those who were able to secure tickets had the unique chance to walk through and experience art in a whole different way. Based on the reviews and photos I have seen, Exxopolis contained many different tunnels that opened up into huge domed colorful rooms which are lit by sunlight. The sculpture is inspired by Islamic architecture and gothic cathedrals, and in a unique twist, the Los Angeles appearance of Exxopolis features random acts of culture. There were 80 short performances that celebrated global arts traditions inside the sculpture, including musical, dance, and spoken word performances. If you are interested, check out some amazing photos of Exxopolis on LAist.
For this plannerd, it was a wonderful weekend indeed. And as I have said before, the Los Angeles region is indeed a cultural capital and a special place. Where else can one tour a brand new park designed by a famous landscape architect, check out an excellent exhibit about architecture and planning in Los Angeles, and experience a unique art sculpture in a single weekend?
Note: All photos by author.