Cap parks offer much-needed green space for LA
"In a town built on make-believe, Hollywood leaders are hoping to pull off the greatest feat yet: creating a public park out of thin air." — LA Times November 01, 2006
The 20th century was a time of dramatic urban, or some would say suburban, transformation for the city of Los Angeles. At the dawn of the century, the city's open spaces and seemingly limitless possibilities attracted large numbers of people, creating the 1900-1920 population boom. In the years that followed, enabled by the rise of the automobile in the 1950s and the major infrastructure undertakings of the 1970s, Los Angeles experienced continued population growth through further geographic expansion, with successive suburbs reaching deeper and deeper into the surrounding deserts and hills. It is only in recent years with the limits of sprawl moving beyond reasonable commuter distances that the city has come to realize its dire need for a more developed urban fabric built upon an effective public transportation system as well as a more extensive open space system. In desperate need of open spaces but faced with astronomical land prices, civic leaders have begun turning to freeway "capping" as a solution that can capitalize on Los Angeles' well known freeway system while simultaneously reuniting neighborhoods often divided by them.
It may seem like a new idea to some, but freeway "capping" is not new to the United States. One of the most well known cap parks is Seattle's 5.2-acre Freeway Park that was completed in 1976. The project reconnected two sides of the freeway, proving to successfully create open space in the most unusual of places. This and other engineering feats sparked the interest of cities across the United States, and they began to emphasize innovative approaches in design to dream up projects of their own. In 1985, the Air Rights Development Corporation proposed to cap a small portion of the 110 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles. The project never came to fruition, but the ideas did not die there.
The Hollywood Freeway Cap Park was conceptualized by forward-thinking Angelenos in the late 1980s. It wasn't until 2006, however, that Don Scott, a Los Angeles investment banker, did research and came up with a proposal that piqued the interest of many. AECOM was selected to produce the Feasibility Study with the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) as the client. The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) quickly adopted the idea as a demonstration project, council members became involved, and the goal to gain public support was soon achieved. AECOM, along with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and active participants in a group now officially called the "Friends of the Hollywood Central Park," championed the community efforts, held four outreach meetings, and has continued full speed ahead on the path to making this dream a reality.
The Hollywood Freeway Central Park will be built over the 101 Freeway from Hollywood to Santa Monica Boulevards in the heart of Hollywood. One mile in length, the park would provide 44 acres of open space in the center a historic neighborhood where views to the Hollywood sign and downtown Los Angeles are breathtaking. Its presence will be known around the world, but its greatest impact will be on the thousands of children who live within one mile of the park. Beyond providing a place to walk, run and play, the Hollywood Freeway Central Park will reflect a forward-thinking approach to ecological sensitivity and set the standard for sustainable urban parks. The Feasibility Report illustrates the challenges and possibilities the site holds and serves as an action plan for implementation.
Since the report's completion in October 2008, both the book and the physical model have toured the city and even the White House, gaining widespread public support and favorable publicity. Local politicians, neighborhood councils, and city and state agencies have all united around the idea to make the park happen and to bring the desperately needed open green space to the most park-poor neighborhood in the city. The project has received several awards recognizing the Park's potential to not only transform the surrounding neighborhood but for envisioning the possibilities of 21st century Los Angeles.
On December 5, 2009, Urban Design Director Vaughan Davies and Landscape Designer Julia Schmidt from AECOM's Los Angeles office had the honor of accepting The Urban Land Institute's Los Angeles Real Creativity (LARC) award for the grand vision and creative urban planning efforts put forth in producing the Hollywood Freeway Central Park Feasibility Report. The award was given in the design category and was described by the judges as an "especially innovative project still in its conceptual stage." Earlier in 2009, the study received two other awards. First it was given the Special Award of Merit in the category of Grassroots Initiative by the American Planning Association's Los Angeles chapter (APA LA). Then, it was presented with the Citation Award for an infrastructure-related, public open space project in progress by the Westside Urban Forum (WUF).
The Hollywood Freeway Cap Park project is one of the biggest endeavors currently proposed in Los Angeles and will become a model for both transit-oriented developments and sustainable design; however, it is not the only cap park currently being considered in the city. In 2008, the Los Angeles office hosted AECOM's Design + Planning (then EDAW) summer internship program. For the past 28 years, the program has brought students in architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, planning, transportation, economics, and social sciences from all over the world to work on a progressive project of current relevance involving both local and global issues. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) hosted the two-week workshop, its 24 students, and a group of talented professionals. The product was called "Park 101" – a civic park on top of the 101 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles. Five hundred people came to the unveiling of the students' work, and for the past 18 months, Vaughan Davies and Don Scott have been spearheading the efforts to move the project to fruition. With sustainability and green design at the forefront, AECOM is seeking to propose, design and implement similar plans across the city as well as the region.
2008 marked the beginning of cap park exhilaration and now, in 2010, we are beginning to see the exciting twists and turns this idea — once thought of as too big and too ambitious — has brought about. AECOM's Los Angeles office has been awarded the feasibility study on a similar undertaking in the City of Santa Monica. With potential cap parks in Hollywood, Downtown and Santa Monica, AECOM LA will continue to champion efforts to revitalize the city's infrastructure and create green space in overlooked settings. In turn, we would help to improve the lives of millions of Angelenos and set a standard for new technologies and progressive architecture.
Los Angeles is going through a period of intense urban revitalization, the likes of which are unprecedented. It is the inventive layering of a city and the development of a more complex urban fabric that makes it fascinating. With infrastructural developments in Hollywood, Downtown and Santa Monica on the way, citizens can expect to see dramatic changes to the future landscape, changes that AECOM LA is shaping today.