Miami Beach Soundscape

Adjacent to the New World Center building (home of the New World Symphony) in south Miami Beach is an interesting park that was designed by the Dutch landscape architecture firm, West 8, and built though a private-public partnership. This 2.5-acre green space’s primary function is to serve as a venue for the public to watch symphony concerts, movies, and video art projected on a large blank wall of the building, all free of charge. Those events, however, take place in just one section of the park; the rest of the space mainly consists of crisscrossing walkways, long seat walls, and groves of palm trees.
 
I visited during a pleasant spring day on a Friday afternoon, and the park was somewhat deserted – I wonder if it gets more use on the weekends and during lunch time. I found the space to be unique and attractive in its design, but lacking in features and daytime activities that would tend to attract more people.

Miami Beach Soundscape 1
The park entrances are accentuated by these sculptural structures with Bougainvillea growing in the centers.

Miami Beach Soundscape 2
Lawn and projection wall

Miami Beach Soundscape 3
The park includes lots of shady areas for relaxation.

Miami Beach Soundscape 4
Seat walls throughout the park include attached stones – an attractive accent, but also functional, since they would tend to keep homeless people from sleeping on the walls and deter skateboarding along the edges. I don’t know if these were the intentions of the designers and client, but it makes sense to me.

Miami Beach Soundscape 5
Angular walkways cut through groves of palms and traverse the undulating topography, giving the park a sculptural quality.

Miami Beach Soundscape 6
The New World Center is seen through the trees – the lack of low vegetation allows for sight lines across most of the park.

Photos by Alice Webb

Mid-Century Playgrounds – Imaginative Fun

Starting in the 1950s and extending into the ‘70s, playground design took a creative turn, away from the galvanized steel structures of yore. Instead of specifying manufactured pieces, designers began to customize entire play areas. Concrete, brick, and other hard materials were used extensively. Several playgrounds built in this style can be found in Central Park, New York City, (photos below). Some of these have been upgraded, maintaining the integrity of the original designs, while complying with today’s safety standards. I like the sculptural qualities and connectivity of the climbers and other features, in addition to the water play areas incorporated in several of the playgrounds. However, I found the spaces to be rather cold and drab in appearance. In my opinion, interspersing some low- and mid-sized plant materials throughout these playgrounds, (not just along the perimeters), would turn them into more inviting spaces and add play value to the sites.

1 - Ancient Playground A
Ancient Playground in Central Park, NYC, next to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

2 - Ancient Playground B
Ancient Playground in Central Park, NYC, next to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

3 - Adventure Playground A
Adventure Playground in Central Park, NYC

4 - Adventure Playground B
Water play in the Adventure Playground

5 - Adventure Playground C
Water play in the Adventure Playground

6 - Heckscher Playground A
Hecksher Playground in Central Park, NYC

7 - Heckscher Playground B
Hecksher Playground in Central Park (water play section)

Photos by Alice Webb

Columbus Circle – An Urban Oasis

Columbus Circle 1

The central islands of most traffic circles in the U.S. are just planted areas, at best, with no consideration for public use. To be fair, the majority are either too small or in areas with too little pedestrian activity to work well as park spaces. Columbus Circle in New York City, however, has neither of these limitations. It also has the benefit of traffic signals at its three crosswalks/entrances. This century-old site underwent a major transformation in 2005, when a barren traffic island with a tall monument to Christopher Columbus was reshaped and expanded into a much larger circular park. It’s truly an oasis in the city, where traffic noise is muffled by the sound of the fountains that border the pedestrian space, and groups of trees along the perimeter provide some visual separation from the surroundings.

Columbus Circle 2
View toward Columbus Circle’s central monument

Columbus Circle 3
Long, wide benches arc around the perimeter of the central plaza.

Columbus Circle 4
Terraced plant beds form the circle’s boundary.

Columbus Circle 5
One of three entrances into the circle

Photos by Alice Webb

Since I was only able to photograph the space from the ground and in daylight hours during a brief visit to the city, here are links to two sites with impressive photos from above, showing the entire circle during the day and also at night:

Columbus Circle in daylight
Columbus Circle at night

On the Ground – Creative Pavements in Montreal

While visiting Montreal recently, I came across a number of public spaces with attractively-patterned pavement, many combining various types of stone. My favorite was Place d’Armes, which was renovated in recent years, but other fine examples are shown below as well.

Montreal plazas 1
Place d’Armes, in Old Montreal, includes smooth granite pavers in various shades of gray, interspersed with stripes of pinkish cobles. The custom-designed tree gates coordinate well with the coble patterns.

Montreal plazas 2
The cobbles in the streets surrounding Place d’Armes are repeated in random stripes within the perimeter of the plaza.

Montreal plazas 3
The large, central, open area of the Place d’Armes includes gray granite pavers punctuated by these pink ones sporting fleurs-de-lis.

Montreal plazas 4
The renovated Square Dorchester includes pavers with a range of textures. The smoothest ones shine both during day and evening, giving the walkways a glittery appearance.

Montreal plazas 5
Intermittent crosses in the pavement at Square Dorchester, formed with rough-textured pavers, signify the historic use of this space as a burying ground.

Montreal plazas 6
Stripes of colored concrete pavers in various hues and sizes at Place Ville Marie

Montreal plazas 7
Metal drainage grates serve nicely as linear accents in this park next to Montreal’s convention center.

Montreal plazas 8
An attractive pattern of concrete pavers and tree grates

Montreal plazas 9
Strips of white pavers repeat the linear pattern of water jets in the Place des Festivals.

Photos by Alice Webb

Parc Hydro-Quebec

In Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles, an interesting little park is tucked between two buildings, designed by renowned landscape architect, Claude Cormier. It features a raised metal grill of varying widths that functions as a pedestrian walkway/court, punctuated with Honeylocust trees and star-shaped benches. Native perennials and ground covers are planted in the low-lying areas along the sides of the park. The walkway, essentially one large tree grate, protects the underlying soil from compaction and allows for rainwater infiltration, promoting healthier trees and sustainable stormwater management. In fact, there are no impervious surfaces in this park that are larger than the benches. Appropriately, the park is situated next to the green-roofed Centre for Sustainable Development.

Parc Hydro-Quebec 1
Parc Hydro-Quebec with the Centre for Sustainable Development in the background

Parc Hydro-Quebec 2

Parc Hydro-Quebec 3
Interesting use of pottery shards instead of gravel beneath the walkway

Parc Hydro-Quebec 4

Photos by Alice Webb

A Riverside Promenade in Quebec

To follow up on my last post about promenades, one fine example that I visited recently is a 2.5-km. greenway along the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec City. The Promenade Samuel de Champlain was completed in 2008 in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city. It includes separate pedestrian and bicycle paths, contemporary art, and intersecting gardens/walkways with references to the natural and historical significance of the river. Champlain Boulevard, a major roadway leading into lower Quebec City, was improved and incorporated into the design.

I only had the time to see a couple sections of this extensive waterfront esplanade – below are a few images from my visit.

promenade samuel de champlain 1
Quai des Brumes (Quay of Mists) is one of several walkway/garden areas crossing the promenade. In summer, linear grates emit mist, referencing the occasional riverine conditions. Geometric stone monoliths are juxtaposed with natural boulders at this site.

promenade samuel de champlain 2
The Quai des Brumes garden continues across Champlain Boulevard, perpendicular to the promenade. Other garden areas along the route also cross in a similar manner.

promenade samuel de champlain 3
This is another area with an art installation, in this case mimicking the trees. Bicycle and pedestrian ways are separate throughout most of the promenade’s length.

promenade samuel de champlain 4
Observation tower at the Cageux Pier, marking the west end of the promenade

promenade samuel de champlain 5
Seating area on the pier

promenade samuel de champlain 6
An array of bike stands is situated next to a multipurpose building at the Cageux Pier.

promenade samuel de champlain 7
I like how the vertical lines of this railing transect the shadows of seating/steps that lead down to the river’s edge.

promenade samuel de champlain 8
At the western end of the promenade, the bicycle path separates (to the left) from the pedestrian walkway.

promenade samuel de champlain 9
Nice combination of wood decking, pavers, and concrete along the pedestrian section of the promenade. (The bicycle path diverges to the left at this point.)

promenade samuel de champlain 10
Bicycle section of the promenade – the dandelions on each side of this trail actually look great en masse.

Photos by Alice Webb

Pedestrian Promenades

During my recent travels, I have seen a number of notable walkways along waterfronts, beside city streets, and through urban and suburban parks. Well-designed pedestrian ways have ample width for movement and social interaction, and include visually-unifying elements throughout, such as a continuous paving pattern and repeated furnishings and plantings. These promenades should also be designed to correspond with the character of their surroundings, as well as provide a pleasant and safe experience for pedestrians.

Transit shelter, Portland OR
The transit mall in downtown Portland, Oregon, has wide sidewalks with decorative pavement, beside streets that have traffic lanes reserved for light rail and buses. The walkways include these attractive clear transit shelters.

Streetside boardwalk, Portland OR
A boardwalk runs along NW 10th Avenue in Portland, Oregon for 4 blocks between two parks. It’s unusual to see a wooden walkway along an urban street. This section, which is adjacent to Jameson Square, is wide enough for a double row of trees – a pleasant place to take a stroll.

Streetscape, South Boston MA
Eye-catching pavement pattern along a portion of Northern Avenue, adjacent to the Fan Pier Public Green in South Boston, Massachusetts

Fayetteville St, Raleigh NC
Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, North Carolina, was turned into a pedestrian mall in the 1970s, but the street was added back in 2006 along with these wide sidewalks with decorative planters, benches, lights, and other features. This corridor’s revitalization is reported to be a success in terms of bringing in more business.

Church Street Marketplace, Burlington VT
The Church Street Marketplace, in Burlington, Vermont, has been in place since 1981, and is one of the few continuously successful pedestrian malls in the U.S. This lively promenade is full of retail stores and restaurants with outdoor seating areas.

Park in Clayton MO
This park in Clayton, Missouri, includes a linear lawn space extending between two streets, bordered by two walkways. Seating areas and plantings line the edges of the promenade. Not many people were outside on this cold day in late October.

Streetscape, Clayton MO
A simple but attractive pavement design along a street in Clayton, Missouri

Walnut Street Park, Cary NC
This beautifully-patterned brick walkway winds its way through Walnut Street Park in Cary, North Carolina.

Boardwalk & Promenade, Myrtle Beach SC
This curvilinear promenade runs along part of the ocean in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It is surfaced with concrete in contrasting colors and textures.

Waterfront Park, Burlington VT
Waterfront Park in Burlington, Vermont, is bounded by a boardwalk which includes nautical-style lighting, granite bollards, and swinging benches.

Central Park - The Mall, New York City
The Mall in Central Park, New York City, is an example of a historic promenade with lovely old trees.

Photos by Alice Webb

Citygarden, Saint Louis

Citygarden is a relatively new (2009) sculpture park in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, which I visited in late October of 2012. It encompasses two city blocks, and features over 20 works of art. The design of this park was inspired by the natural characteristics of the region’s river environments. Along the northern edge of the property, urban terraces represent river bluffs; the central, lower segment loosely depicts a flood plain; and a serpentine seat wall symbolizes a river as it winds along the southern section of the park. In addition, Citygarden has several sustainable features, including six rain gardens and a green roof on the park’s café.


All features at Citygarden are meant to be experienced – there are no “Do not touch” signs to be found at the park. In warmer months, a thin sheet of water runs down the Tilted Disc in front of this sculpture.


A series of steel arcs is one of the first sculptures in view when entering the park from the east. The Limestone Arc Wall, which gently curves across the length of the park, can be seen in the background.


The long, rectangular Split Basin is situated in the northeast quadrant of the park. There are two levels to this basin, with a waterfall in between, where the Limestone Arc Wall intersects it. A modernist café is situated to the right in this photo.


Arc sculptures as seen from above the Split Basin’s waterfall


The lower portion of the Split Basin includes stepping stones.


Park visitors check out the Video Wall.


The granite Meander Wall separates lawn from lush plantings


The Meander Wall continues along the southern section of the park, for 1,100 feet.


“The Door of Return” stands along the park’s central walkway. In summer, the Spray Plaza, behind this sculpture, includes numerous vertical water jets that spray in various patterns, with dancing lights at night.


“Scarecrow” stands guard along a wooded walkway.


“Zenit” adorns the summit of a hill at the park’s northwest corner.


View from the park’s high point, facing southeast


Playful rabbit sculpture at the park’s west end

Photos by Alice Webb

Teardrop Park – Nature in the City

During a recent trip to lower Manhattan in NYC, I had the opportunity to visit Teardrop Park. This little urban oasis in the Battery Park City neighborhood is situated between several high-rise residential buildings. It includes natural play areas in its southern half, and lawns and walkways to the north.

Much of the park was designed to represent a northeast forest environment, with rock outcrops, rolling hills, and lush (mostly native) vegetation. One of its prominent features is a vertical wall of stacked bluestone, arranged to resemble natural rock strata. This design includes water seepage through a section of the wall, forming icicles in winter.

In the middle of the children’s play area, a long slide is anchored into a rocky hillside and terminates in a large sand area. Nearby, there is a small sand play area for pre-school children, in addition to a water play zone for kids of all ages. Children and adults alike can also explore a wetland play path, where I observed a number of birds during my visit.

The sloping lawns to the north of the play areas are pleasant spaces for relaxation, and include several seating areas along the perimeter. There are also some more isolated seating/gathering spots along paths throughout the park. Despite the secluded nature of those areas, I felt very safe while there.

I was at the park on a Tuesday morning, so it was not packed with visitors. I would imagine that it attracts a lot more users during weekends and summer evenings, especially residents of the surrounding high-rises. The park provides many opportunities for imaginative play for kids, and serves as a pleasant environment for all.


Hillside slide with rock steps and overlook


Pre-school sand play area


Water play area


Wildlife in the water play area – the robin and the littlest boy are color-coordinated!


A seating area above the water play zone


Rock wall resembling natural strata


Portal through the rock wall


South (back) side of the rock wall portal


People relaxing in one of the lawn areas


The northern-most lawn area slopes toward the south to take advantage of the sun.


A small nook for imaginative play at one end of the wetland path

Photos by Alice Webb

Hudson River Park, Chelsea Section

New York’s Hudson River Park has been built in phases, extending for several miles along the west edge of Manhattan. In mid-March I visited the Chelsea section, from Pier 62 to 29th Street.


Entrance area of the Chelsea Cove section of the park – this section includes extensive lawn areas, a concrete skate park, carousel, and walkways.


Picnic area near the entrance to Chelsea Cove


View of Pier 62, including a carousel with a green roof


Seating area on Pier 62 with “floating” lights


A walkway near the skate park (fenced area to the right)


The 11-mile long Hudson River Greenway runs adjacent to the park


Pier 64 features lawns, walkways, and seating


Linear section of the park north of Pier 64


Sculpture at 29th Street

Photos by Alice Webb