Guest Commentary

Trying to Make Sense of Divergent Opinions That Reach Same Conclusion (Tear It Down)

Sat, Oct 20, 2012   By Sheila Lightfoot    2 Comments
On the very same day – two opinions appear in this publication concerning the broad topic of preservation vs. new development and neighborhood architectural cohesion and need vs. the city hierarchy’s ideas of broader objectives. Historic Preservation: Designating Nostalgia? and A Critic’s View: Plummer Park are at odds in their approaches yet seem to reach the same conclusion… tear it down and replace it with something new. In both I find that the “something new” appears not to require the same critical scrutiny as the old.

Serious consideration of the ideas and desires of serious, engaged residents, whose collective lives ARE the City, cannot be an afterthought in this discussion. Citizens must be involved in making these decisions, not the subjects of decrees or sales pitches for what’s decided without their input.

Preservation, architectural context and integrity and public benefit are, indeed, all integral parts of any discussion about this or any city’s transition to the future.

About Plummer Park

I must admit Mr. Heully’s critique of Plummer Park is such a mish mash of conflicting ideas, inaccuracies, misconceptions and nonsense that I can’t quite follow him. But, while my knowledge of design is pedestrian, I do always remember one overall concept of design. Form follows function. In other words, something can be made beautiful, but it must, first, serve its basic function.

However, his bottom line appears to be that the city’s opinion of the “function” necessary to satisfy the entire city is pretty much accepted as a given and the neighborhood’s disagreements are merely a response to what they dislike about the “form” due to renderings so bad that no one can perceive how magnificent the design or the function really are.

As for a city resource for public space vs. the Eastside’s backyard concept, when folks from the Westside start trekking to the Eastside to use “their” public space, we can have that discussion.

Preservation in General

While I may disagree with Mr. Yeber’s labeling of most neighborhood push back as whimsical “nostalgia” and find it, by contrast, more attuned to his more earnest term, “continuum of our history,” he lays out a consistent, thoughtful case about preservation, I find his following points most instructive:

In considering preservation, one needs to ask several fundamental questions.

First, what is the context in which a particular structure or site was built or gained distinction? Identifying the set of circumstances that led to an existing condition is key and the basis for starting a thoughtful and reasoned debate on the merits of any particular preservation proposal.

What is its connection to the community in the past as well as today? A designation of a Cape Cod house surrounded by California bungalows on the basis that it is the “last remaining specimen, ”only serves to achieve an architectural petting zoo. 

Finally, one must ask if the subject site benefits the public more as it is than if it were redeveloped.  This is one of the most difficult questions because public benefit is highly subjective and inherently intangible.

A Policy We Can Believe In

I am particularly struck by the comment, only serves to achieve an architectural petting zoo.  Surely if a lone Cape Cod surrounded by California bungalows is inconsistent with architectural integrity, what replaces it must, likewise, be judged by the same critical criteria for architectural integrity.

Asking his same questions: “what is the context in which a particular structure or site [is] built” and “what is its connection to the community in the past as well as today” are just as appropriate for all new development as they are for preserving what’s there.

If our City’s decision makers applied these simple principles, I don’t think they would have approved a design that put an elephant (the Plummer Park re-design) in the middle of the lovely and serene flamingo section of that neighborhood’s architectural petting zoo.

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About Sheila Lightfoot

Sheila Lightfoot is a longtime resident of West Hollywood.

View all posts by Sheila Lightfoot →

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2 Comments

  1. Rudolf MartinSat, Oct 20, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    very well put, thank you.

  2. Steve MartinSun, Oct 21, 2012 at 6:41 am

    Plummer Park could use some wise investment of City funds and some parts should be reconfigured to make the best use of limited open space. But the proposed design tries to do way too much and does not reflect the community’s needs. Nor does it respect the many aspects of the Park that are an important part of our history. Aside from the absurd costs of the proposed re-designed Park, the City needs to recognize that the proposed design is the product of a very flawed process that essentially excluded meaningful community input. Much of the design was imposed by people who don’t use any park much less Plummer Park and the design process was simply used as a vehicle for creating grandoise monuments to certain City Council egos.

    Steve Martin

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