Designers reveal their eye-popping (and probably budget-busting) plan for a plaza in the middle of the road.
In the city’s futuristic vision for San Vicente Blvd., tree-covered islands between the library and the Pacific Design Center will tower over the road below, which the city will be able to convert with ease into a covered outdoor space for public gatherings of all shapes and sizes.
Both pedestrians and drivers will travel beneath the canopies created by the richly landscaped pedestals, which appear in renderings like forests perched on giant martini glasses. Even next to visually iconic landmarks like the PDC and the cantilevered staircase at the park, the San Vicente Streetscape project will no doubt turn heads — whether that’s in awe or horror remains to be seen.
The project is being designed by !melk, a New York-based landscape architecture and urban design firm, and the city’s own Urban Design + Architecture Studio. Representatives from both groups held a Zoom forum Tuesday to get feedback from residents and answer questions about their highly ambitious concept for the one of the busiest spots in WeHo.
WHAT’S THE POINT?
The project began ostensibly to make closing the street easier and more efficient. The city says it shuts San Vicente Blvd. to traffic between “20 to 30 times a year” so events like the Elizabeth Taylor ball can be held there. The designers say the project will also provide an outdoor gathering space able to accommodate impromptu events like the recent candlelight vigil for Mahsa Amini or the rally to protest Roe v. Wade, both of which were held in the recently finished WeHo Park. Additionally, the high-tech streetscape will help mitigate reckless driving.
CLOSING THE STREET
The road beneath the canopies will be raised and reconfigurable. Monolithic planters will serve as bollards when the street is closed and a median to divide traffic when it isn’t. The planters sit on rails that criss-cross the streetscape, allowing them to be moved and realigned with IKEA-like versatility. The road will be outfitted with a “rumble surface” that will slow traffic.
One of the designers’ dreamy goals for this project is the creation of a “microclimate,” or what we might call a nature reserve, to foster biodiversity and habitat regrowth via irrigation and shade in a locale full of concrete and direct sunlight.
Residents brought up a number of valid qualms and useful questions to the designers:
Q: Aren’t rumble surfacesand textures difficult for narrow bicycle tires?
A: They’re only intended for the vehicular portions of the roadway.
Q: What about the Metro train subway coming to this location?
A: One of the alignments would entail the subway being underground at this location but it would be further west under West Hollywood Park, approximately 60 to 80 feet below ground.
Q: Won’t the pillars be a traffic hazard? What happens if a car hits them?
A: Trust the structural engineering, the designers said. They also intend to incorporate street lights, utility poles and other vertical obstacles into the pillars.
Q: What events will be hosted here?
A: “Mostly what’s on the current calendar,” the designers said, with the allowance of an impromptu protest or vigil from time to time. But the design of the streetscape is obviously intended for much more than that. The designers brought up food festivals, car shows and a farmer’s market as potential bookings.
Stuart Deninberg spoke for many residents when he made the above comment in the Zoom meeting chat room.
While intrigued by the space-age structure, its ecological impact and its potential functionality, residents had many concerns, including:
- ‘The person on the sidewalk won’t see the trees on top of the design element.”
- “The trees will detract from the AIDS Monument.”
- “I’m concerned about seismic issue with the weight of the trees.”
- “Cobblestones and rails would be very dangerous for bicycles. The ecology structures look very expensive to build and will look dated in a few years.”
- “I have participated in the vigil and the protests in the park. There was plenty of room.”
- “Mario Buatto put a ring of trees on top of the building…talk to them…they died and are no longer there.”
The San Vicente Streetscape as envisioned would definitely create the “destination” (landmark) the designers are gunning for.
But why again?
The city just spent millions on the new West Hollywood Park and the adjacent Aquatics Recreation Center. Despite some hiccups, they both turned out beautifully and serve a wealth of purposes. Do we really need another gathering space? Or floating forests requiring untold amounts of water and maintenance? Despite a lack of shade, the wide open expanse of the park has proven perfect for the vigils and rallies that have recently been held there, demonstrating that not only will crowds show up, they will fit comfortably.
Unsurprisingly, the estimated cost of this project — likely a jawdropping figure — went completely unmentioned.
That leads us to think the city sees a money-making opportunity. The streetscape plaza would provide WeHo the large-scale, outdoor, city-owned event space it doesn’t currently have — and with that comes the potential to generate serious revenue from those aforementioned ice cream festivals or car shows. And there’s little incentive to pass up on the huge concerts that residents are worried about.