Thirty-eight years after Joni Mitchell penned her lyrics about paving over paradise with a parking lot, two dozen summer interns—gathered by planning and design firm EDAW—have helped plan a landscaped park over the mother of all parking lots. Namely, a bleak stretch of the 101 Freeway that slices through a trench in downtown Los Angeles, dividing some of the city’s most walkable and historic areas like Olvera Street, Chinatown, and Union Station from the downtown government and business districts.
The interns presented their plan, which they call Park 101, to a large crowd in front of the Caltrans building in late June. The scheme proposes placing a two-thirds-mile-long deck, or “cap,” on the 101 Freeway between Alameda and Grand avenues to the east and west and Temple Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue to the north and south. This would facilitate a 100-acre park, as well as 1.9 million square feet of mixed-use development on land lining the freeway that would help pay for the project’s infrastructure. Within the park itself, the interns designed an amphitheater, a folded landscape with a ridgeline trail, and several winding walkways.
If built, the scheme would be developed in three phases, starting with the infrastructure and park, followed by the mixed-use development, and then by what the interns called “the tallest and greenest skyscraper on the west coast” to help anchor Disney Hall.
To Vaughan Davies, EDAW director of urban design and creator of the assignment for the interns, what matters is making a connection. The Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project, which transformed downtown Los Angeles in the 1950s and 60s, “focused on buildings,” Davies observed. “There was no focus on the public realm” with buildings like Union Station stranded by an imposing freeway. The project is “about people taking back the city,” said Davies. “If you’re going to do it, do it big.”
Members of the 101 Park steering committee included representatives from Caltrans, METRO (LA’s transit authority), the LA planning department, the Community Redevelopment Agency, city council members, and the mayor’s office. The total cost of the park and its infrastructure is projected at $700 million. Financing for the project may prove as fleeting as a Mitchell song, but the interns—culled from schools across the world—worked with several Los Angeles politicians and agencies, which could help draw support for ever-diminishing public funding.
Davies points to the proposed mixed-use project as an effective funding source, and also suggests a new BID (business improvement district) or TIF (tax increment financing district) to help bolster the project’s financial feasibility. “It needs to be a business plan, not just a green plan,” he said.
METRO has already applied for a Caltrans Community Planning Grant on behalf of EDAW to support and continue the planning process for Park 101. And according to a spokesperson for EDAW, the park’s implementation could be overseen by local organizations with rights to the land, including Caltrans and the county and city of Los Angeles. To that end, the firm has already been presenting the plan to neighborhood groups to gather stakeholder input.