The Art of Placemaking • Long Beach Post

Placemaking through the arts can take a number of different forms.  The most typical model is creating open spaces and districts that become nodes to various arts and cultural facilities.  The National Mall in Washington DC is perhaps the most classic example, with various museums, monuments and galleries flanking either side of the mile long park.  Yerba Buena Garden in San Francisco is a more recent precedent, with the 3 acre urban park surrounded by a neighborhood of a dozen arts, history and cultural institutions.


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These parks utilize the critical mass of those attending, circulating and resting between the cultural institutions to activate the central space.  While many of these parks and neighborhoods also have public art within their limits, between sculptures, murals and grand water fountains, there are those creating a sense of place within them with public art.  Millennium Park in Chicago has successfully employed public art with interactive sculptures: Crown Fountain and Cloud Gate being more significant fixtures of the park than the adjacent Art Institute of Chicago. Wynwood Walls and Doors transformed a warehouse district in Miami into an outdoor art gallery with dozens of murals created by local and world-renown street artists.  The formerly derelict neighborhood is now an international destination and home to dozens of designers and creative organizations.

Placemaking can utilize more temporary programming by transforming spaces into performance venues whether they were originally designed for such or repurposed.  Third Street Promenade and Venice’s Board Walk are recognizable examples of placemaking through performance as musicians, dancers and acrobats borrow part of the public right of way for their stage.  People strolling along these corridors find a diverse array of creative talent while performers have access to an expansive, audience.  Many communities including Long Beach’s East Village have Art Walks- which close streets for temporary placemaking opportunities- utilizing the public right-of-way for arts commerce as well as performance space.

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Long Beach has struggled at times with placemaking as some of the most beautiful public open spaces remain largely inactive.  The Terrace Theater Plaza is an attractive urban space with two theaters and event arena surrounding the space.  Just a couple blocks away is the East Village Art Park, an intimate public open space that exudes public art in every feature of the space between the benches, gates and stage that all were hand crafted by local artists.

Yet these spaces struggle to be active because of the lack of recreational uses or regular programming within and around the space.  Terrace Theater Plaza is not readily accessible, being on a plinth raised about the street, setback behind an expansive intersection, surrounded by parking lots and structures, none of which circulate through the plaza.  The East Village Art Park is tucked behind a building that has no windows, between electrical transformers across the street from the blank façade of a parking garage.

It is important to take lessons from these artful places when developing Armory Park, the future public park created through the reconfiguration of the intersections of 6th Street, 7th Street, Alamitos Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr Avenue.  The new park would be surrounded by a diverse array of art, cultural and learning institutions, including MoLAA, Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum, St Anthony Church and High School and a half dozen artist loft buildings, providing constant activation.

While being the central node for various arts facilities, Armory Park is also surrounded by a dense residential community that is sorely lacking public open space.  The park should be active with a diverse population of local residents, museum visitors, students and church goers depending on the time and day.  Along with typical park programming like a playground, skateable furniture and basketball half-court Armory Park will also include spaces for art programming, which should be a great asset for PIEAM and MoLAA as well as the larger art community.  Surrounding Armory Park are a number of arts installations including a pair of murals and multiple sculptures associated with the adjacent institutions.

Art can play a significant part in the placemaking of Armory Park, making it a conduit for reaching a diverse audience of those living close and quite far.  It will be necessary for those local stakeholders to program and be stewards of the park in order for it to be a successful place.

For more information, you can view the complete City Fabrick presentation on the Art of Placemaking.

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This post originally appeared on City Fabrick.

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