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WPA 2.0 Offers Supercharged Freeway Park in Hollywood

January 20, 2010

Linda Samuels, an accomplished architect who I was fortunate to meet at the LA 2.0 event last month, has pointed me to another “2.0” event of equally visionary and inspiring proposals. It’s WPA 2.0, a nationwide design contest hosted by UCLA’s CityLAb. WPA 2.0 is billed as a search for “innovative, implementable proposals to place infrastructure at the heart of rebuilding our cities, [recalling] the Depression-era Works Projects Administration… that has, in turn, become a lasting legacy.” Linda has done a post about the event on her personal blog, as well as her more detailed write-up at the Design Observer.

The contest is now over, and while the winner is an intriguing algae park in Brooklyn, I fond one of the more interesting (and locally relevant) proposals to be an amped-up redux of the currently proposed Hollywood Freeway Central Park, designed by Gary Garcia, Marc Yeber, Iris Tsai, and Xiaoye Zhang. Their revised proposal (.pdf link) includes a number of features not included in the original proposal, including a “viewing deck”, an improved habitat and water chain, more bike paths, and improved integration with the community and local culture.

Their proposal is stunning visually, offering inspiration for future park construction or renovation. But for all it offers in vision, it lacks in practical ideas for bringing the project to completion. The current proposal already comes with a $900 million price tag, and adding elaborate view decks will undoubtedly add to the cost. Perhaps the most implementable ideas are the less flashy ones: better bike paths, creeks and rainwater purification, wildlife habitats. I have to say, if nothing but the original proposal were built, I’d still be very happy.

But aside from its more specific ideas for the park features, the expanded proposal offers a rallying cry for freeway parks throughout the area:

It is imperative that existing infrastructure, originally built to serve efficiencies on a singular level that often resulted in fractured neighborhoods, now be viewed as the most promising prospect to provide relief to those seeking open space. a seismic retrofit planned for the 550 mile freeway network within Los Angeles County offers the opportunity to capture some of the approximate 19 square miles dedicated to these thoroughfares. By integrating new layers of urban infrastructure that perform socially and ecologically, neighborhoods become reconnected and natural resources better managed.

The Hollywood Freeway Central Park will be a great asset to the city in its own right. But what we really need is not one but many freeway parks, uniting neighborhoods formerly devastated by freeway construction. Even if the WPA 2.0 proposal’s lofty visions for the Hollywood park never come to pass, it may yet serve to spur a wave of freeway parks throughout the city, bringing communities together and making Los Angeles a better place to live.

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