PSTX Seal

Inspiration and Execution

Ms. Jones: I'm very happy to be here, back.  It's always nice to come home to Texas.  Our bios are in your packets, but I think it's important to fill in a few of the more critical details of my bio that aren't in there.  I grew up in Baytown, Texas, a block from Burnet Bay.  I went to Lamar Elementary and I went to school at both the University of Texas and Texas A&M University.  So I cover all the bases.

I'm going to talk about three projects; I'm going to skip all the way to execution.  That's what I was asked to talk about, was inspiration and execution.  So I'm going to show you three projects, two built, one underway.  These are projects that are about transformation.  They're about the kinds of changes we've talked about all morning needing to happen to reverse the trends of sprawl, to reverse the trends of environmental degradation, to reverse the trends of environmental injustice and to begin making places that are more urbane, that have that density that Marilyn talked about and that have that beauty that Laurie just talked about.

I'll start with this one, which is in Chattanooga, which is probably one of those cities that will be absorbing so much of that growth in the future; one of those sort of mid-size, largish cities.  Chattanooga is on a river and this is a project about transformation of a city and restoration of a river.  It's a river that floods, so this is a levee situation.  This is about bringing people back to the river in a city that has turned its back on the river. This is about giving people access to that water while at the same time controlling the floods. It's also about taking on a site that was highly toxic and making it into a place for recreation and for nature.

We're dealing with both sides of the river in Chattanooga. This is the city side and this is the side of a former GE plant where they had made refrigerators and other such things.  The land was in many ways completely poisoned on that side.

This is the built city side of the project. It's not just about making open space.  The mayor wanted us to be sure we weren't just making open space but that we were being a catalyst for development which Chattanooga needed; they needed mixed-use development.  They also needed housing on the river and wanted to expand their aquarium.  So we needed to make open space as a catalyst for economic change on this city side of the river.

Basically, we sculpted the river's edge, sculpted the levee such that a person could now get to the water and celebrate the water and once again recreate on the water.  This is also a very important site historically.  This is Ross's Landing where 39 tribes were forced to embark on the Trail of Tears and walk across our nation to Oklahoma City. The fountain that you see in the heart of this project, where the city comes to the water, it is representative of that Trail of Tears and representative of the tribes who embarked from this location.  On either side of that fountain you have access, terraces, steps, an amphitheater-like setting to the water's edge.

This photograph was just after the project was complete.  They're setting up for opening day and tons of people came and have continued to come.  We collaborated with various Native American tribes who helped us with this particular place of passage.  This is the place of passage through their ancestors would have moved through to embark from the landing.  They came up with these inscriptions, these medallions that marked this passage.  Kids love to be under here in the shade and at the water's edge.  The fountain - these tears - are also the destination from the upland park that connects the city to this spot on the river.

It's a very sculptural place. We have to hold floodwaters back from the city, so we can't neglect the fact that it's a levee, but we can certainly tilt the planes of that levee in a sort of three-dimensional louvering so that you embrace the water's edge, you are able to access it and not just block yourself off from it.

These interstitial places become places for people to gather. Chattanooga was historically the location of the Head of the Hooch, which is a rowing regatta, a rowing event.  It is now happening again because of this 21st Century Waterfront Park. It's also a place where many kayakers enjoy weekends.

None of this happened before turning back to the water and creating this very simple reconnecting of a city to its river.  It took an aggressive mayor.  Two of my projects today are about fabulous mayors. We did a study and told the Mayor that we would have to break this down into phases and it would be about an $80 million project.  He said, "No phases, we're going to build it all and we're going to do a hotel tax to pay for it."  And he did. We worked with some really talented people, Jamie Carpenter, for instance, who's a beautiful designer of lighting elements, glass elements, architecture elements.

Now, across the river, on the wrong side of the river if you will, was GE's former site for making refrigerators.  Not all of the site was degraded by this post-industrial use.  This part of the site had a beautiful stream on it and various woodlands reaching to the water's edge.  But as you can see from this diagram, the heart or the base point was 475 acres of watershed.  All this water was flowing into this toxic area through this woodlands into the river and groundwater very, very close to the surface.

The city wanted it to be an adventure playground and a place for people to recreate. This is the construction drawing.  This is the grading drawing that shows the topography we created to do two things.  One, to keep the stream separate and flowing and the other to create a series of land forms that would cap the most toxic substances and create a wetland, a built wetland through which the storm water, the overland runoff carrying all these nasty things could flow and come out in a more polished sense on the other side.

This is a very functional landscape.  As Fritz was saying earlier, landscapes have to do many things now.  In certain conditions, the storm water is moved through the wetland to be cleaned.  In other high-flow conditions it has to do both, it has to come down the stream through various ways such as a very simple, almost like a lock system preserving the stream and using the wetland. It also has to feed the wetland in low-flow conditions. 

So it takes on operational aspects.  Here's a landscape operating to make environmental change.  In this recent photograph, you can see it's juxtaposed with the urban waterfront across the river.  It is a very sculpted landscape that's doing its job juxtaposed with the very remnant, natural landscape enabling it to continued to do its job. These weirs are instrumental to making that water move through the wetlands system and making that water move through the plants clean it before it comes out on the other side.  Over time these weirs will probably be invisible.  They're already attracting a new ecology behind each of them as soil and water feed these and nurture these spontaneous landscapes that occur behind each of the weirs.  It might become harder and harder as time goes by to see that there was a design to this landscape.

Now I'd like to move to Houston, Texas, where we recently completed a project known as Discovery Green.  At this point I have to bow to Maconda Brown O'Connor who joined your society today and who was so instrumental in making this project happen.  I think Mayor Bill White is a part of your society, as well.  And he was very important also in making this project happen.

It's one of those sites that exist in many cities in Texas.  I would say most pronouncedly in Houston and Dallas, where there are so many vacant, empty, vast expanses of asphalt used for parking at times, at other times just empty.  They're in the cores of the cities.  Many of you probably know this site quite well.  It's the convention center here, downtown here, Minute Maid Park here and Toyota Center here.  It's was 12 acres of surface parking before we got involved.The zoning around this site allowed for all these high-rise residential mixed-use towers to be built all around the project in the future.  All it took was getting this project going.  We hadn't even broken ground before one of those high-rises had started construction.  And now another one is almost finished construction.  So the economic catalytic change of this 12 acres has been enormous. 

Hopefully, some of you have seen the ULI article that Larry Speck, who was the architect who worked with us on this project, and I wrote for ULI's magazine focusing on what an enormous economic and social engine of change this park has been. Now, Laurie will like this slide because before we began the design of the park Project for Public Spaces had been to town.  Project For Public Spaces felt that in order to have anyone come to the project that there would need to be almost as much program as there is in Central Park.  Central Park is 900 acres, Discovery Green is only 12 acres, and we thought perhaps maybe it didn't need quite that much program. 

But we knew that it was important to people that this park succeed, that this was a philanthropic effort. They also wanted it to be a place simply of respite and beauty and of a giving back to their community. So as designers - because that's what we are, we're designers - we had to figure out a way to incorporate all this program without making Disneyland and continuing to have a place that would be of the garden heritage of Houston and simply a respite, as well from the urban environment.

This picture is right before it opened.  We managed to sort of gang the program all along a central promenade and keep the rest of the park largely green, and to even incorporate 600 parking spaces beneath the sloped amphitheater lawn and the central great lawn.  We were also still able to accommodate a model boat pond and restaurants and cafes and play areas and all the other fabulous programs that were desired.  I have to say again it was a pleasure working on this with Larry in terms of figuring out how to make this work, in terms of an urban system, as well as landscape architecture and architecture.

Tens of thousands of people came to the opening day and they have continued to come every day since.  The restaurant that Larry designed in the park hoped they would have a soft opening.  No such luck.  They've been sold out every night; it really has been an amazing success.

It's bisected by two axes, two promenades.  This is the east-west promenade.  This is the one that connects Toyota Center to Minute Maid Park.  This is the one along which we put all of the most active uses, all the really built sort of more urban uses.  This runs east-west. This is where on one side of the promenade is the park building; on the other side is a cafe.  It's where we put the interactive fountain, for instance, which brings bus loads of kids from places that have no swimming pools to play in the water.  We ended up having to turn the puppet theater into changing rooms because so many kids were coming to play in the fountain. It was when we were sitting in a conference room in the park building having a meeting about the park when we saw a little naked kid run by that we realized it was time to have changing rooms. 

You can see how this central axis is very active and the buildings clip onto it in this very beautiful way that set up these cross-axes going the other direction; sort of simple stitches in the park.  This interactive fountain is a beacon at night.  It's what you see from downtown as you drive down Lamar to get to the park. Opening day the park was filled and it has been ever since.  In fact, last week they opened the ice-skating rink.  And it was 80 degrees and you had kids concurrently ice skating and playing in the fountain. 

We're recognizing that we're in a part of the world and an era for all of the world when water use is very important.  This is what I lecture to clients.  It's very important to use water thoughtfully and judiciously.  This is one of the ways, using recycled water. Nothing animates public space like water.   The other axis, the north-south axis in the park is all based on this beautiful historic allee of oak trees, a magnificent, amazing row.  This used to be a street in Houston's history.  I believe you can see a statue of Maconda's grandfather in one of these slides.  Larry may talk about this project, this aspect of the project more, but this is the restaurant, this is the nicer of the two places to eat.  This is the sit-down tablecloth restaurant which clips onto that allee of oak trees claiming it as its front porch.  The building is a sustainable building and a real, real delight to experience.

One of the things that Project For Public Spaces said we needed in the park was a tree house.  We couldn't see building a tree house but we did build an upper-level deck that feels like a tree house and you look down into that beautiful line of oak trees. There's the statue. Here are urban gardens, low-water usage gardens with Texas natives, filled with program.  These are Doug Hollis' listening chairs.  You can sit in those and have an almost whispered conversation across 60 feet and hear each other.  People were already enjoying them before the park had even opened and they're still planting the gardens here. Small uses of water make a respite from the city.  In these gardens there's also bocce, there's a putting green, there's a bandstand, there are dog parks, everything everybody wanted put into this sort of beautiful framework that made it all sort of graceful and organized.

The pond, part of which is a model boat pond, turns into an ice-skating rink, a performance space, a place to get married, a place to learn about ducks, a place where the native grasses are really taking hold, they are so gorgeous.  It's a respite from the city and you can see the two high-rises under construction in the background or at least one of them under construction. People come at all hours.  They eat in the cafe that overlooks the central lawn, which is the sort of center of all this. There is other a public art piece by Margo Sawyer who's a native Texan.  That's one of the entrances to the parking garage below.  The Mist Tree by Doug Hollis.  And the play area with children of all ages.

Very quickly, because I realize I'm the only thing between you and lunch, I will go through a current project in Los Angeles which is in between those two scales.  Those went from miles of riverfront to 12 acres in the city to 32 acres in downtown Los Angeles in one of the most under-privileged and under-supported areas of downtown Los Angeles.  It's near Chinatown.  It's down the hill from Dodger Stadium.  It's the site of the Chavez Ravine riots.  It was the site where Japanese-Americans were interred during the war.  It has a rich cultural history, most of it unhappy.

The plan was to put a million square feet of warehouses on this site, but grass-roots efforts led to the state, the Department of Parks and Recreation, purchasing the land for, I think, $30 million for the building of a historic park.  It's a new paradigm for state parks because there's nothing of history there anymore.  The history is all gone.  But it's about interpreting that history and bringing people back and serving a part of the population currently completely undeserved by parks.

It previously had rails on it.  You can see a number of eras of history all together in this map.  This dark line was the Zanja Madre which was the Mother Ditch that brought water from the LA River.  Yes, the LA River is adjacent to this.  It's hard to tell because it's in concrete.  But it is a river.  So these were tributaries from the Zanja Madre.  Then during the time of industrialization, this was the turntable and the roundhouse for the rail tracks. These were all the rail tracks with the station and depot, et cetera. So you had that kind of landscape for much of its history.  You had a trestle bridge over it to get the workers from one side to the other.

Here we are with these 32 acres to deal with and many disparate cultural interests to address.  We came up with these different uses within the park that transitioned from the urban end of the park where you're adjacent to downtown toward the river end with the pattern that reflects the rail lines on the site.  That is in everything we're doing on the site; we are evoking its historic use, its historic nature and making connections.  Not only connections or physical connections to adjacent neighborhoods, but connections to past and observations about the future.  There are interpretive threads. 

We're working, I should note, with Michael Moss, architect and with Ralph Applebaum Associates in the interpretive planning.  Many of you probably know their work at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.  No one knows how to tell a story better than Ralph Applebaum Associates.  Each of these threads deals with themes from nature to water to culture to industry. Along those threads you can read stories, you can use your PDA to dial a number and hear a spoken story.  There are many ways that these stories are being told on the site, including in the welcome station and along the fountain bridge that will connect you to Broadway and in the civic fountain that will be like a train as the water moves along these long lines just as train cars would move through the site. 

Along each of these threads of historical interpretation there are places to stop, there are portals of information.  These portals are places of shade.  It's hot in Los Angeles and there is not much water.   These portals are carved with words, stamped with words that are universal to the theme that you're exploring in that portal so that you're washed by these words, these common words, these words that mean different things depending upon your frame of reference, like settlement, like home, like progress.  Those mean very different things to each person who's visiting this source of information. 

The fountain bridge alludes to the water conveyance system across the site from the Zanja Madre to the adjacent neighborhoods.  Performance space is located right on the turntable and will actually be able to reveal the archeological dig of the turntable below.  What you see here is the site actually being excavated.

Looking the other direction toward the river, is a series of gardens that address first nature, second nature and third nature.  Then the environmental center, a wetland and connection to the river.  These are the gardens - closest to the river being first nature, in other words, habitat, restoration of wetland, marsh river conditions; second nature being agricultural gardens; third nature being ceremonial gardens, places where people can enjoy everything that Los Angeles can grow.  In the second nature gardens kids will be able to plant and harvest food and then learn how to cook with that food in the adjacent ecology center, which will have a restaurant that will then serve that food. There are three pieces of architecture on the site: the welcome station, the fountain bridge that comes from the roof of the welcome station across to connect to the upper level of Broadway and the ecology center.  You can get on the top of all these buildings.  Michael likes to say you can crawl all over these buildings. 

There will be interpretive displays inside about the history of the people who made this community and who suffered in many ways through the making of this community.  You'll be able to tap one piece of the screen for information. It might say, The Brown Family in Houston, for instance and then you'll see connecting stories through time about that family and all the sort of spurs of information that come from that single place.

As you move through the wetland you see the ecology center here in the background.  The ecology center will be an environmental display in and of itself.  You'll move through different levels of the building which engages the wetland itself. You can get on top of the building and you'll be able to move through this in a very three-dimensional way.  The exhibits will be from a micro-scale to a macro-scale.

In these exhibits you will be asking questions, you won't be told answers.  For instance, "How would I control flooding in the Los Angeles River?"  You will be given multiple choices. One, to do what they did in history, which is to culvert the river.  One would be to let it be natural.  You get to push that answer and then see the ramifications that would happen with each of those potential solutions.

There will be a connection to the river.  We don't actually own land that touches the river yet, but we will be bringing water from the river by solar and hydro-powered pumps to create this wetland environment and then put that water back in the river in a better state.  Here's the Los Angeles River.  I know it's hard to tell that's a river, but it's a river with these concrete banks and a railroad track running along it. 

These are warehouses we don't yet control.  We've already gotten them to agree to let us do this so we can make a green connection to the upper level of the Los Angeles River.  Those warehouses are historic ones; they're quite beautiful.  These are not and should go and will go and will allow us to make a connection to the river. 

In the future if we can get the railroad company to agree to put their tracks on trestles, we can actually slope the land beneath the railroad tracks so people can move seamlessly and water can move seamlessly from the river to the wetland system and to the park, back and forth.  We will have finally made a real connection to the Los Angeles River and been the first project that will actually restore some of the banks of the Los Angeles River. Thank you very much.

speaker jones Speaker Mary Margaret Jones, President, Hargreaves Associates, San Francisco. Photo by member John Gullett.