Pershing Square sits atop a parking garage between 5th and 6th street in downtown Los Angeles. A public plaza named after General John J. Pershing, US Commander during the first World War and the only General not named Washington to be awarded a sixth star. Though for George it happened 200 years later during the bicentennial (Thanks, Watergate!).
The plaza sucks. Redesigned by landscape architects Ricardo Legoretta and Laurie Olin in the mid 90s, it looks like the opening credits of Saved By The Bell threw up a level of Tony Hawk pro-skater. Full of right angles and perfectly machined geometric shapes, I imagine the designers armed with newly computerized drafting tools thought it’d fun to bring virtual reality into actual reality. They were wrong. And don’t get me started on the weird post-modern bell tower. The place has few of nature's fractal irregularities the human nervous system finds so comforting.
Now you could argue taste is subjective. Maybe, but people's actions are not. That anyone only seem to go there for the solitude is proof of my premise. In honesty, if you live in LA, and even then, unless you make frequent trips to the area, you're probably unaware of its existence. Nassim Taleb, professional flaneur and hobbiest trader, points out people vote with their actions... In a survey they may say they prefer quiet restaurants with fast service, but in reality flock to the crowded restaurant with a 50 min wait.
The main problem is contrast. The city is already full of man-made buildings and over designed corporate offices. Pershing Square is just more of that. I'm not an urban designer or a landscape architect. I've read nearly 60 pages of Robert Caro's 1300 page book about Robert Moses, and I understood the Jane Jacobs reference on Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but my only qualification for this critique is having been there and found it wanting. In my mind Pershing Square should be a contrasting point of yin amidsts a shit-ton of downtown yang. As Coachella Valley's Desert X art show proves, if this design were plopped in the middle of a the Colorado Desert people would be lining up to visit it. Art needs a frame.
Redesigning this plaza could only be a boon for downtown. Businesses would want to rent the nearby retail space. Apartments would be in higher demand. I bet the mental health of the whole neighborhood would improve. There's probably even a corrupt city council member or two (I just assume all city council members are corrupt) who could take pride in making downtown just a little bit nicer. The yin supports the yang and vice versa.
Our society is now, and always, in the middle of a rebalancing of these energies. They're embodied by the left-right-gender-war-climate-crisis-foreign-tariff-regime-change-isolationist-neo-liberal-alt-right nature of our political discourse. I think we'll get a lot farther if we consciously recognize this is and learn to acknowledge the important contributions of the other side. If we can find the humility to appeal to their implicit values or even better, their self-interest, maybe we can find some common ground. This is a hard task, but it's the obstacle in the way of solving our most pressing problems.
And lets please plant some trees and get rid of the god-damned bell tower.