The Play of Ideas

park300When a city decides what to do with its public spaces, it’s better to entertain lots of ideas — to play with designs, to encourage competition, to let a thousand potential flowers bloom — than to close down the process and outsource imagination to developers and bureaucrats. That’s the idea behind the Lear Center’s Grand Intervention project, an attempt to bring openness and a diversity of vision to the planning process for a new 16-acre park in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.


The developer of the park, the Related Cos, said nothing doing to the idea of a design competition. But a short walk away from the site of the future Grand Avenue civic park, there’s an example of how competition can do a world of good. When the state of California announced its intention to turn 32 acres of land near Los Angeles’s Chinatown, known as the Cornfield, into a park, they also announced a design competition which drew an amazing array of proposals.

Commenting on the difference between the Cornfield process and the civic park process, Grand Intervention advisory board member Richard Weinstein said that competitions are good because they raise the big questions that need asking. He wrote this in an LATimes op-ed: “Competitions can energize the conversation about who we uniquely are as a city… [and] what we might become.”
Could the difference between the Cornfield and the Grand Avenue park processes have anything to do with where the money’s coming from? The Cornfield is being funded by the state, but neither the city nor county of Los Angeles is putting a dime into the Grand Avenue park; it’s being entirely financed by the developer’s advance payment on the land lease. I guess the rule is, if you pay the piper, you get to call the tune.

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