Letters from the issue of Thursday, May 29, 2003

Brian Gavagan


The art of the matter: Michael Paglia's criticism of the impending reconstruction of Skyline Park misses the mark. I believe that it is telling that his column appeared in the "Art" section of Westword. Therein lies the problem: It is not enough for a public space to be beautifully designed. An urban park is not a static artwork that can be admired or ignored as one chooses. Whatever the aesthetic merits of Lawrence Halprin's designs, they have repeatedly failed to honor the public realm and attract the full spectrum of the general public. His Freeway Park in Seattle has been cited by that city's police department as one of the Emerald City's most dangerous places. His United Nations Plaza in San Francisco has been taken over by homeless people and dope dealers, as is the case with our own Skyline Park.

We all recognize that "living in a free society means that public spaces are open to everyone." However, poor design choices can guarantee that only certain groups will have any desire to occupy those spaces. Halprin's layout for Skyline Park, with its steep grade changes and plentiful hiding areas, violates rules of urban park design that had previously been adhered to for millennia.

Paglia's contention that the design of a park has no influence over the behavior of its users contradicts common sense and real-world experience. His citation of New York's Central Park as a place that is beloved and widely used despite its grade changes misses the mark, for Central Park is of an entirely different scale than Skyline Park. A much better analogy can be had without leaving the Big Apple: Bryant Park, adjacent to the New York City Central Library, was utterly transformed from a filthy, dangerous space to one that is beloved by all segments of the populace by removing hiding places, improving sight lines and bringing the grade closer to street level. The location, obviously, didn't change, nor did society's underlying social problems. Rather, an inferior park design was corrected, thereby creating a place that New Yorkers are now rightfully proud of. The same thing is about to happen in our own city, and that far outweighs the misplaced admiration that some members of the design community have for Lawrence Halprin.

Jake Wegmann


Pei as you go: The former May D&F plaza at 1550 Court (which is now the Skid...I mean Adam's Mark Hotel) was not, I repeat, not designed by the great I.M. Pei. It was discovered that one of his underlings within his firm was truly responsible. Although I will agree that Denver (and its people) seem all too quick to tear down any and all world architecture, I do not want 1550 Court included with the other classics that have been destroyed and might be destroyed in the future.

Just remember, Denver (read "the people"): This is your city. Fight for what should stay and what shouldn't.

Dave Mills


Michael Paglia replies: There is not now, nor has there ever been, any legitimate question about the authorship of Zeckendorf Plaza: It is the work of I.M. Pei. But don't trust me -- I've only been researching the topic for the last decade. Instead, check out Carter Wiseman's definitive monograph on the architect, straightforwardly titled I. M. Pei, in which Zeckendorf Plaza is discussed and illustrated with a period photo.

Meanwhile, the idea that there's a causal relationship between design and society's problems is incredibly naive and very easy to debunk. Lawrence Halprin's park designs, such as Skyline, are no more responsible for urban social ills than are the parks by Olmsted and Vaux, including Central Park. Skyline and Central Park both have their share of drug dealers and thugs, as does every other urban park in any big city in the country. As I said in my column, I guarantee that those pesky homeless teens will be hanging out in the new park that's replacing Skyline just as soon as it's finished -- and Halprin's not designing that one. Just wait and see.

Steer Clear!

Terrorists to the back of the bus: David Holthouse's article on RTD ("Security Reach," May 15) made me laugh more than the letters to the editor, an always welcome mixture of candor and lunacy punctuated with sharp expletives. The notion of the government protecting us is mildly humorous -- were 9/11 not such an effective action. The millions being spent by "think tanks" to produce the suggestions in Holthouse's article illustrate the effectiveness of terrorism. It turns the loonies loose to waste money, our money. What will this exercise accomplish?

Accountability is the issue in Holthouse's story (leaving aside the increasing attempts on the part of the government to make us all either criminals or law-enforcement personnel). The scenarios listed in the article range from impossible to ridiculous. How can the government, regardless of good intentions (yeah, right), make a bus driver responsible for stopping trained terrorists? Or for that matter, how can the government make any of us responsible for detaining or identifying criminals of any kind?

Don't we have law-enforcement professionals trained to find criminals? Did RTD bus drivers volunteer for this mandatory program, or is it simply another well-meaning but useless attempt to calm the jittery minority? Making RTD bus drivers responsible for anything but driving the bus is a misplacement of the resources allocated for terrorism. Where is the promised capture of bin Laden? How about first things first? Is Denver anyone's prime target?

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