Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Gaps in Parks Master Planning: Part Five | Planning for Public Art as an element of park facilities

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I'm reprinting this because I've added a bunch of images and some text.

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 Gaps in park master planning frameworks

-- "Gaps in Parks Master Planning: Part One | Levels of Service"
-- "Gaps in Parks Master Planning: Part Two | Utilizing Academic Research as Guidance"
-- "Gaps in Parks Master Planning: Part Three | Planning for Climate Change/Environment"
-- "Gaps in Parks Master Planning: Part Four | Planning for Seasonality and Activation"
-- "Gaps in Parks Master Planning: Part Five | Planning for Public Art as an element of park facilities"
-- "Gaps in Parks Master Planning, Part Six | Art(s) in the Park(s) as a comprehensive program "
-- "Gaps in Parks Master Planning: Part Seven | Park Architectural (and Landscape Design) History
-- "Gaps in Parks Master Planning: Part Eighr | Civic Engagement"
-- "Gaps in Parks Master Planning: Part Nine | Second stage planning for parks using the cultural landscape framework

Public art in parks and as an element of facilities.  This is a different issue from arts programming more generally, which is the subject of the next entry.

Gary Webb’s artwork Squeaky Clean takes the form of an interactive public sculpture and is a permanent commission situated in Charlton Park, Greenwich. Built from steamed wood, polished aluminium and cast resin, the work combines brightly coloured and large-scale public sculpture with elements of modular playground equipment. The work is aimed at local users of the park and the local community.

While many parks have public art programs that display public art, usually sculpture or murals ("Lauren Haynes to Be New Head Curator on Governors Island," New York Times, "Governors Island in New York: Public art installations," TimeOut New York) most do not.  From the article:
“We have big ambitions for the arts program here, which is to be New York’s pre-eminent public art destination,” said Clare Newman, the president and chief executive of the Trust, a nonprofit organization created by the city to develop and operate the island as a recreational and cultural resource. 
Mark di Suvero at Governors Island, presented by Storm King Art Center.  Photo: Donald Yip.
... “We have fantastic examples of public art throughout the city, but what makes Governors Island unique is really our location and the fact that it’s an experience to get here,” Haynes said. The idea of disconnecting from the city, while still visible, and reconnecting to nature on the island, she continued, “feels like where the opportunity is.”
Murals and other types of sculpture placement can be a mix of permanent and temporary installations, displaying sculptures, billboards like on the High Line in New York, etc.


Sculpture at Red Butte Garden, Salt Lake.

High Trestle Bridge on the Trestle Trail at night, Iowa

New Yorker Magazine
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond

An advantage of ephemerality is that after awhile, patrons may take permanent pieces for granted and pay less attention.   But stunning permanent pieces are always powerful.

The NoMA Business Improvement District and the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Washingtonp DC hold a mural festival each year, affiliated with Pow Wow, where the previous year's murals get painted over.  The Sioux Falls Sculpture Walk changes each year also.

Metropolitan Branch Trail.  Flickr photo by Joe Flood

Each year the High Line installs a new art billboard.  This is by John Baldessari.


Neon signs from Boston area defunct businesses displayed on the Rose Kennedy Greenway 
Boston Globe).


The Gates, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Central Park, New York City, 2005

Separately, murals as an element of public art are often used by communities as a way to call attention to a district and move revitalization objectives forward ("10 new murals added in South Salt Lake for 6th annual Mural Fest," ABC4).  Philadelphia's Mural Arts Project is a national leader in creating a city wide mural program.

And of course, public art is an element of the built environment in arts districts like the Wynnwood Walls in Miami ("How the Wynwood Walls Have Shaped Miami's Art Scene," Architectural Digest) or the Neon District in Norfolk, Virginia.

Murals in the Wynwood neighborhood in Miami, Florida. 
Photo: Josh Ritchie, Guardian

Hell, Time To Go Fishin’,” displayed on the sidewalk in front of Sarasnick’s Hardware., Bridgeville Pennsylvania.  Photo: Teagan Stoudemire, Pittsburgh Post Gazette.  From "He's not hot, he's just buzzed by the public art in Bridgeville."

There is also a special event variant of special night time illumination (Georgetown BID's Glow, Austin's Waterloo Greenway's Creekside Festival, Oakland's Lakeside Gardens Autumn Lights Festival, traveling shows), often as a fundraiser.  (There is also the variant of park holiday lighting in December).  

Waterloo Greenway

Prismatic public art/architectural lighting exhibit by RAW Design and ATOMICS3, 
Distributed by Quartiers des Spectacles Internationale (Montreal)

Colorful lights, Lighted paths and trees are part of Dazzling Nights at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden

Some parks also have temporary exhibits featuring photos, like Millennium Park in Chicago and the plaza of the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris.

"Dancing in the street" à la Cité de la Mode et du Design, Peter Knapp. Photo: SNCF

Public art in public facilities is not new.  Murals during the Depression, sculpture, street furniture and appurtenances.

New Deal era mural in the Colorado Springs Public Auditorium, 1934

City Beautiful era statue of General Nathaniel Greene, Stanton Park, Washington, DC

Ornate streetlight in Los Angeles.

Architectural lighting of the British Columbia Parliament Building(s)

A Japanese manhole cover

Church architecture.  Is relevant too, because for a long time churches were the major public buildings in a community.  Art communicated religious messages.

A simple painted ceiling by Michaelangelo.  Basilica of Saint Mary Above Minerva, Vatican City

Stained glass windows at the First Presbyterian Church of Stamford, Connecticut

Incorporating public art into park (and other public) facilities


Regardless of active public art display programs, most park systems fail to take "public art" to the next level by incorporating artistic treatments into what would otherwise be regular facilities, be it restrooms, playground equipment, pavilions, street furniture, or other facilities ("Using art to define our parks," NRPA, "Children’s play area design: How landscape architects set the stage for fun and games," Stantec.

Greenhouse, Dalston Curve Garden, Hackney, London
Every year the Garden’s Rainbow Greenhouse is transformed into a magical shadow lantern, using cut-out paper silhouettes. This community artwork brings colour and light in the dark winter months

A log climbing structure at Verna Playground at FDR Park, Philadelphia

Basketball courts painted as a mural.  Trinity Art Court Trinity Park, Fort Worth
Artists: Arnoldo Hurtado, Noel Viramontes and Ricky Cotto

Concept for a shade pergola as public art, Phoenix.

Funtime Unicorns playground equipment by Derrick Adams


Dionicio Rodriguez "faux bois" bus stop, 
originally created for the San Antonio streetcar system, c. 1927

Reproduction of a Seurat painting on a public restroom in Saugatuck, Michigan

Everett, Massachusetts.  Boston Globe Photograph

Archway as part of the trailhead for the Sauk Rail Trail in Lake View, Iowa. 
Photo: Philip Joens/Des Moines Register

Public art in the restroom and a Winnie the Pooh quote, Merriam Plaza Library, Kansas.

Seats at the Center for Social Action Through Music, Caracas, Venezuela, by Carlos Cruz-Diez

A piano sits on the sidewalk at Verdugo Street and Camino Capistrano in San Juan Capistrano. The Pacific Symphony Orchestra has placed pianos in cities throughout Orange County for everyone to play. Photo: Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register.

Park entrances. Are opportunities for public art treatments.  Historically, park entrances may have been marked by archways, piers, and other architectural elements ("Gaps in Parks Master Planning: Part Eight | Park Architectural (and Landscape Design) History").  

But in the modern era, such treatments are rare.  Although federal public lands still use stone monument signage.

Lincoln Park Gateway, art deco, 1933, Los Angeles

Rusch Community Park entrance, new construction, Citrus Heights, California

Gage Park, Topeka Capital-Journal photo by Chris Neal.

An entrance to Zion National Park.  Photo: Ravell Call, Salt Lake Deseret News.

Accessing parks by road and sidewalk are opportunities for public art treatments.

Indianapolis Cultural Trail

Art crosswalk in Lima, Peru, by Carlos Cruz-Diez

Miami, Carlos Cruz-Diez

Sidewalk outside Guthrie Green, Tulsa.

Copacabana tiled sidewalk, Ricardo Burle Marx.

Mosaic tile pattern, Rossio Square, Lisbon.

Great pavers, Rosemary Square, West Palm Beach, Florida

Being systematic.  Using Transformational Projects Action Planning as a way to be innovative at multiple scales, the best way is to incorporate the opportunity to incorporate public art into facilities is to add it to the project checklist as an item to consider for every project ("A wrinkle in thinking about the Transformational Projects Action Planning approach: Great public buildings aren't just about design, but what they do").

For example one of the most stunning trail public art projects is the Waukee Railroad Pergola.  There is a nearby restroom built out of block and value engineered.  They could have treated the restroom as public art just as they did the bridge.


Located at the trailhead of the Raccoon River Valley Trail in Waukee, Iowa, the Waukee Railroad Pergola: In The Shadow of the Rails is a dynamic integration of public art and infrastructure based on the history of the railroad and creates a unique experience for visitors and a destination for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Open issuesCost.  Public art costs more when added to a project.  The parks that have extensive programs tend to have extranormal funding sources, are conservancies, etc. Sometimes it's installed through proffers/community benefits in association with new development.  Or there are city 1% for arts programs as part of municipal zoning and development policy.

John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune 1 of 3 Evan Bohus, 15, takes pictures of his classmate riding the Funtime Unicorns art installation by artist Derrick Adams at Navy Pier on April 14, 2023.

Plus, name artists charge a lot too.  The Funtime Unicorn "rocking horses" cost $50,000 each.  A typical playground "spring rocker" costs less than $1,000.

No way would a typical park system spend that much money on one piece of playground equipment, art or not ("With ‘Funtime Unicorns’ at Navy Pier, artist Derrick Adams embraces Black joy with playground toys," Chicago Tribune).

Maintenance.  Over time, maintaining quality public art can be expensive.  Statues have to be cleaned.  Murals may require restoration.  A lot of times now, when art is donated, usually the institution will stipulate the inclusion of a maintenance fund as part of the acceptance.  

Extra demand for services over what city agencies could typically provid were why BIDs and park conservancies were created in the first place. 

Adding public art to facilities increases demand for service ("Gaps in Parks Master Planning: Part One | Levels of Service").  Putting public art in traditional parks that lack additional funding sources could stress the agency.

One "overdesigned" park by Dan Kiley in Tampa, originally called NationsBank Plaza now Kiley Gardens is infamous for how its extranormal demands for maintenance led the park to fail.

Same with the brutalist park that was built on the roof of a parking structure as part of the Long Beach Civic Center in California.  

While the complex was demolished because of seismic issues, the design of the park was uncongenial and underused except by the homeless, and also extremely difficult to maintain.  

Fragility.  I wonder about those Funtime Unicorns.  Parks get used a lot, and hard, and there is vandalism.  Repairs cost more, etc.  Can public art in park facilities withstand hard use?


So maybe there is a focus on some types of public art being added to facilities and not others. 

What I call design for maintenance which includes ease and cost.  But even a public art crosswalk has to be repainted at some point.  

OTOH, in some instances, could public art treatment reduce vandalism, such as of restrooms?

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