Christopher Swope was GOVERNING's executive editor.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Orange County's mega-park clears one hurdle but hits others.
Ask 10 people what a park should be, and you're likely to get 10 different answers. Some think parks are for strolling, hiking, bicycling or rollerblading. Others envision gardens, fountains and manicured lawns. A park can be a place for loud concerts or reflective silence; highbrow art appreciation or mindless sunbathing; organized sports or pick-up games; or, really, just about anything human beings like to do.
The good news for Orange County, California, is that when you've got 1,347 acres to work with, there's room for almost everything. The bad news is, it takes a while to work through all the demands. It's been seven years now since Orange County decided to build its "Great Park" on the site of a former Marine Corps air base. In February, the park's governing board finally approved a comprehensive park design. Last month, the board voted on the first round of construction work, which is to include bulldozing a lot of the flat, runway-crossed land into its new topography, as well as constructing eight soccer fields, a 20-acre lake and a community farm.
The prolonged planning process, with its many design unveilings, has worn some people out. Christina Shea, a member of the Orange County Great Park Corp.'s board of directors, told the Orange County Register, "Sometimes, I feel like I am going to the same wedding several times a year." Now, it looks like there will be more delays. The park's build-out plan relies heavily on tax-increment financing derived from development of the land surrounding the park. The housing slump will push that development back by at least a couple of years and maybe more. At times like this, it's worth remembering that New York's Central Park also took seven years to plan--and another 15 to build. That fact is not lost on park chairman Larry Agran. "I'm glad we took the time and effort to create a world-class design for the whole park," Agran says. "But we should've emphasized that this is a 10-, 15- or 20-year project, and not a 3- to 5-year one."