The following article details one of the more ambitious visioning processes-one championed by Nick Patsaouras more than a decade ago-ever undertaken in L.A.: the Park 101 District, which would transform Downtown Los Angeles into an expansive greenbelt of parks, open space, and cultural amenities. One of the project's lead designers, Vaughan Davies, principal of design and planning for AECOM Los Angeles, has provided TPR with this exclusive explanation of the vast potential of Park 101.
Every great U.S. city has a major and much-loved urban park: Central Park in New York, the Millennium Park and the Lake Michigan waterfront linear park in Chicago, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and Balboa Park in San Diego. These grand parks do not evolve naturally; they have been deliberately planned and developed.
However, with the disappearance of available land for large parks in urban areas like Los Angeles, cities that want a new park today must be more creative in how they plan and develop parks within the increasingly constrained urban environment: Where's the land and how is it going to be optimized both physically and financially?
For certain, the land is not where it used to be. A perfect example is the proposed Park 101 District in Downtown Los Angeles. A celebration of a new generation of urban parks, this project would cap a three-quarter-mile stretch of the 101 Freeway that slices through downtown Los Angeles creating an entirely new neighborhood. The Park 101 District would connect Union Station with Grand Avenue and re-vitalize the 101 Freeway "trench", ultimately linking the Los Angeles River to Downtown, and reconnecting Chinatown and the Elysian Hills to a larger park system in the hills of Los Angeles.
"This idea captures the spirit of Los Angeles-the ability to create opportunity where none seems possible. Park 101 initiates a conversation to change a city known for its maze of freeways into a city known for beautiful parkways," said Gail Goldberg, former planning director with the City of Los Angeles. For Los Angeles, it is as significant an idea today as Bunker Hill or the Los Angeles Aqueduct were to a prior generation of city and county leaders.
The Next Great Place
This is a daring repositioning of Downtown Los Angeles for the next generation. The Park 101 District is poised to become the next great place in Los Angeles and Southern California. "The 101 Freeway today isolates the birthplace of Los Angeles, El Pueblo, Chinatown and Union Station from the rest of downtown Los Angeles," explains Don Scott, an investment banker and former chairman of the Hollywood Central Park coalition and also former chairman of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. "As a result, these areas have never lived up to their true potential. Park 101 would change this situation dramatically when the freeway pollution is eliminated and replaced by an inviting public green space. We need to do something to prepare for the future."
As envisioned, the unique Park 101 District would be of a quality that promotes development ideas and strategies for success-an iconic urban park representing the next generation of "postcard images" for the city of Los Angeles.
The Park 101 District, which encompasses both the park and contiguous commercial and residential uses, is the catalyst for urban renewal and the logical outcome and extension of local and state transit investments. It forges a new roadmap toward urban sustainability and economic prosperity for Los Angeles. The Park 101 District would also capitalize on the recent and future investments in public transit infrastructure in Los Angeles (and across California) designed to reduce the level of greenhouse gasses as mandated by state laws AB 32 and SB 375.
"Park 101 advances the 21st century vision to re-connect neighborhoods, not divide them," states Emily Gabel Luddy, FASLA, a USC landscape architecture professor and former head of the L.A. Planning Urban Design Group who is a founding member of the Friends of Park 101 and a newly elected board member of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative. "As the head of the L.A. Planning Urban Design Group, it was clear to me from the beginning that land reclamation over freeways resets the idea of public infrastructure to projects that enhance quality of life in a significant way. This is a healing project for neighborhoods cut up by freeways."
The public infrastructure required to build the Park 101 District will cost an estimated $825 million over the next 25-plus years. Part of the cost will inevitably be borne by public agencies such as the city of Los Angeles, Caltrans, and Metro. At the same time, there is significant opportunity for new value capture through fees, financing districts and other mechanisms. For the park component of Park 101, the public infrastructure costs approximately $390 million for the development of the park acres plus additional streetscape improvements.
Public improvements include more than 34 acres of new park and open space, capping nearly a mile of freeway trench, and upgrading 10 linear miles of streetscape with new lighting, paving, landscaping, and related pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular improvements. "I grew up in a rural area of the Midwest," says Doug Failing, Executive Director of the Metro Highway Program and former director of Caltrans District 7 (Los Angeles). "Even though I love Downtown Los Angeles, one thing I miss here is trees. Park 101 would inject some welcome greenery into this starkly concrete urban area."
An Economic Engine for Downtown L.A.
The Park 101 District will play a significant role in the redevelopment and invigoration of the surrounding area, comparable to what Millennium Park has done for Chicago. "We believe the Park 101 District has the ability to do the same as Millennium Park by leveraging new earnings for Los Angeles," Scott notes. "Additionally, Park 101 has the opportunity to appeal to many users including young professionals, retirees or empty nesters to move Downtown from the suburbs and take advantage of its proximity to the many cultural attractions of the region."
The Park 101 District also has the ability to attract new businesses and enhance existing businesses, leveraging the advent of proposed High Speed Rail service to Union Station and the numerous local mobility choices. With the increase in population of the city of Los Angeles projected to be approximately 600,000 people in the next 20 years, it is the goal of Park 101 planners to help capture a significant percentage of this growth for the Park 101 District and Downtown.
It is estimated that every dollar of the public investment in Park 101 District would spur $1.25 in new private development that would not otherwise occur. Anticipated new development in the Park 101 District includes an estimated 1 million-1.9 million square feet of hotel, office, and retail space and 600-800 new residential units with a value of $490 million. In addition to 2,800-3,500 one-time construction jobs, the district could bring 2,800-6,000 new permanent jobs to the city and region.
New property taxes could total $5 million-$8 million annually, with the city's general fund benefiting from a direct influx of $1.3 million-$1.9 million per year. This, coupled with the almost eight million square feet of un-built entitlement at Union Station, affords an unprecedented opportunity for revitalization of this blighted, underutilized area, creating a new urban oasis for Los Angeles and its people.