Orange County Great Park, A New Kind of Park…

I went to a park on Sunday that is still in developments and won’t be complete anytime soon. However, what has been done thus far is mind blowing and what is coming in the up coming years will define a 21st century park. On an old marine base on the boarder of Irvine and El Toro exists a huge orange helium balloon that goes as high as 400 ft (FAA regulations set balloon max height t 500 ft). As I pulled into the parking lot that was built from old high ways and I neared the entrance of the Great Park I felt not only like a child who finds an open swing, but also knew how it feels to live in the eco-conscious environment of the 21st century. The balloon flys Thursdays-Sundays mornings and evenings…FOR FREE!!! Yes, you read correctly, you get to not only enjoy one of the most non-natural sustainable parks in the world, but also hop into a helium air balloon!

The Great Park was designed by Ken Smith (designer of the Third Street Light Rail Project in San Francisco) after he won the design competition. The Great Park was created in an effort to provide the 21st century a self-sustaining park that would span from walking through canyons, lakes and a cultural terrace. Here also will exist Orange County’s largest Sports Complex, botanical gardens, and restoration and management of the habitat home to everything from the Kangaroo Rat, to Buckwheat, to the California Quail, to the Bobcat.

All this fun, but how is it paid for? Well aside from funding from the Lennar Corporation, there is also fees totaling no more than 1% of property value which is added to base of the property tax resulting in $201 million for infrastructure and park development in addition to funds for ongoing maintenance. I guess price comes with a cost, but we are talking about a place which brings the community together on so many different levels: Personal health, Regional Health, Global Health which encompases Energy, Nature, Materials, People and Water.

Okay, now you ask how does such a wonderful park get started? It began with a donation from Lennar Corporation who purchased a large sum (4,700 acres to be exact) of land from the Navy for $649 million in Feburary 2005. Then the Lennar Corporation donated 1,347 acres to the City of Irvine for the Orange County Great Park and agreed to pay an additional $200 million for future development and maintenance of the Park.

Some things are too good to be true. If you look at the land that surrounds the Great Park, it is all open. In less than 10 years from now homes will be built like legos, on all 3,700 acres of it. What has been done is a clever move from the Lennar Corporation which has been building homes since the 1950s. The thought here is build one of the worlds largest and sustainable parks of the 21st century, get people to come to it, ride the balloon for free, increase the value of the property and there you have it= beautiful over priced California homes.

Yet, I still cannot discredit what the Great Park stands for. Green. Sustainable. Renewable. This is one sphere where political constituencies did not  trump public open space. This is a place for our families. I certainly echo Los Angeles Times’ architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne when he named the Great Park as one of his best picks.

| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |