Ever think about what our city will look like in 10, 20 or 100 years? How will self-driving cars and ride sharing programs affect how we get to and from work? How will millennials’ preference to bike or walk to work affect our long-term parking plans? How will the rising sea levels affect our waterfront?
I think about these things quite often, and so has the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency. Last June, it created a contest to help answer this question, “How can we recreate an urban core so its design is intelligent, flexible, and responsive to the needs of residents and visitors?”
The contest received over 40 submissions from urban design and architectural firms. Proposals by Ecosistema Urbano from Madrid, Spain and Perkins + Will from Chicago were selected as finalists by a panel of judges. Each firm went to work, with the help of the CRA, to research and develop their original proposals and submit final proposals.
“This competition is a remarkable opportunity to consider ways to make our city’s center more dynamic, expanding our ideas for the future of West Palm Beach,” said West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio.
The final proposals are now online at vanalen.org/projects/shore-to-core. They represent bold and sometimes surprising visions for the future of our downtown and waterfront. The city is asking residents to study the proposals and send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are a couple distinct issues being targeted in the proposals.
First is the Banyan Garage, which has reached the end of its useful life and needs to be either rebuilt or “upscaled.”
Ecosistema Urbano proposes transforming this space into the “Banyan Hub,” which is conceived as a “focal point for activities downtown.” The building would be open to the public day and night and would be “an active presence in the city.” If the parking garage was “upscaled” using the existing structure it would “allow the city to enter into the building as an indoor street.” This idea would allow for the opportunity to have a cycle path inside the building or a rooftop “Food Truck Invasion.”
Perkins + Will takes a more conservative approach and proposes that the rebuild of the parking garage include 300 parking spaces, 100,000 square feet of event space and a rooftop public “sky garden.” The proposal lifts the building up to create an open and organic “public social space” which would have views of the new waterfront park to the north and also connect with the Banyan Alley.
This leads into the next focus, which is our downtown service alleyways, which run east-to-west and are currently only used for deliveries. Perkins + Will suggests using this space to create “affordable space in downtown to help support the arts and smaller-scale entrepreneurial commercial opportunities.”
Ecosistem Urbano presents a vision that framed the alleys as “Cultural Passageways.” This includes creating “thematic routes” which takes visitors from one part of the city to another using dedicated routes. Active and passive climate mitigation is proposed, creating shade and cool areas.
And finally, our beautiful waterfront. Both proposals have bold ideas, and both also agree in the need to replace our existing seawalls with a natural shoreline. Flagler Drive is proposed to be reconfigured from a four-lane road to a “shared-use pedestrian promenade” which winds through the new waterfront. New water amenities and waterfront dining space is proposed, along with new mangrove islands and boardwalks, as well as stairs that lead to the water to “allow access into and observation of the daily high and low tides.”
There is so much more in the 83 combined pages of both reports. They are a fascinating read and I would recommend that anyone who is interested in the future of our city read them thoroughly and give the CRA your feedback.
The Perkins + Will proposal sums up the way forward by stating West Palm Beach will define what it means to be a model coastal city by embracing change with hope and ambition and making smart investments.
“The formula for progress is to: Think differently about infrastructure; respond incrementally with investment; and dream big about the city you want to live in.”
Pictured above: Urban design firm Perkins + Will’s concept of West Palm Beach’s new Banyan Street Garage + Civic Building with the new Banyan Alley.