By Delle Willett | Art on the Land
Adding public space to a Downtown neighborhood
Where some people might see vacant lots and utility infrastructure, Nathan Elliott sees opportunity.
Elliott is a principal with the Office of James Burnett (OJB), a San Diego landscape architecture firm that has received national recognition for the impact their public parks have had on their communities.
Working with Civic San Diego, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and a team of local consultants, Elliott has led OJB’s preparation of East Village Green’s general development plan (GDP) and his team is currently preparing to begin the design process that will ultimately lead to the park’s construction.
“Our work takes us across the country to pursue and develop these kinds of projects and it is extremely gratifying to work on such an important project in our own hometown,” Elliott said.
Anticipated as a three-phase project, East Village Green’s GDP identifies a 4.1-acre park bound by 13th, 15th, F and G streets in the heart of San Diego’s growing East Village neighborhood. The block of 14th Street between F and G streets is envisioned as a pedestrian plaza that could be closed to accommodate street fairs, farmers markets and community events.
The project’s first phase will include the 40,000-square-foot city block east of the NewSchool for Architecture and an additional 20,000-square-foot parcel on the block to the east. East Village has precious little public open space, though it has been recently expanded by the addition of Fault Line Park in 2015.
The East Village Green team led a series of public workshops that solicited feedback from the community and offered a series of alternative concepts. The park’s proposed plan reflects a hybrid solution integrating the best ideas for each concept, and will include a wide range of program activities that will appeal to people from all walks of life.
“East Village Green will truly have something for everyone,” Elliott said, adding that projects like Quartyard and Maker’s Quarter demonstrate the very real demand in the neighborhood for public space.
As more residential development is added to the neighborhood, the need for more public open space will increase.
Currently an arts and industrial neighborhood in transition, the East Village is anticipated to evolve over the next decade to a mixed-use community of nearly 30,000 residents. East Village Green will be the signature urban park and open space for the neighborhood and is envisioned as the hub of community activity.
“It will be a place where everyone is welcome,” Elliott said.
Urban sites often pose unique challenges to designers, and East Village Green’s site includes a number of challenges that the team hopes to leverage into new creative opportunities. The location contains a series of active seismic faults and a 22-foot elevation change from one end to another. Understanding key neighborhood assets like the new Central Library, Petco Park, Quartyard and Makers Quarter also offer insights as to how the park might be used.
Elliott and his team believe that alternative funding and operational models for the park might provide funding to mitigate key issues identified by neighborhood residents in the public workshops, like security and maintenance, although he did note that finding the right “fit” for the community is a key part of that dialogue.
The economic downturns often result in reduced municipal tax revenues, making the operations and maintenance of public open spaces more challenging for the city departments that care for them.
An increasingly popular tool in this work is collaboration with nonprofit foundations or private entities to support park operations, and Elliott is excited about the project’s potential to be a hub for “creative collision” by becoming the neighborhood’s central gathering space.
“I think the East Village is in the midst of an unprecedented transformation and we’re very optimistic about the ways this important new public open space will help catalyze that change,” he said.
To learn more about the Office of James Burnett, visit ojb.com.
—Delle Willett has been a marketing and public relations professional for over 30 years, with an emphasis on conservation of the environment. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.