03 February 2007

The Great Park of Orange County

While Ken Smith's winning entry on the Great Park of Orange County isn't as newsworthy anymore, the stories along the way are revealing about the landscape architect who some critics worried was too small time for such a large project.

Anyway, this weekend the NYTimes Real Estate Section ran a full half page story on the impact of Ken Smith and the park. The conversion of the old Marine base (where my brother-in-law spent a few years) has already led a developer to spend nearly $1 billion for land and infrastructure and Habitat for Humanity is reclaiming materials from the old military buildings that are being razed. Aside from impacting property values and new development, the park is clearly going to help create more public open space for Southern California.

The plan is quite urban for Orange County, which a generation ago was largely rural. Now, with more than three million people, it is the fifth most populous county in the United States.

These days, Mr. Smith said, everyone he meets in Orange County talks about the loss of open space. The great park, he said, is “a chance to give people back a chunk of what they’ve lost.”

And if that requires significant development around the park, Mr. Smith, a Manhattanite, isn’t complaining. “Having a little more density around the park,” he said, “means there will be more people to use it.”

In their preparation for one of the major parks of the world, the Great Park Conservancy has assembled short studies of many other parks and gardens. It is a nice list. For full disclosure, we should also mention that Rutgers' own Steve Handel is on the project team.

As an aside, a few years back we Ken Smith in as a guest speaker in the Speaker Series. The talk was great. Even though he was well known within LA, he wasn't nearly as widely known at the time. But the students who saw his talk could tell that this was a particularly special designer who just hadn't found that special job that would carry his reputation across disciplinary boundaries around the world. During his visit, we asked (of course) the 3 landscapes and his answers were:
Vaux le Vicomte,
Daitokuji, and
The Times also said somthing about the Earth heating up. Sort of a Good news, Bad News type day I suppose.

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