Community Benefits

A few weeks ago, I discussed the value of small-scale architecture. In the Wall Street Journal, Julie Iovine described the community benefits of Toshiko Mori’s new Poe Park Visitor Center in the Bronx, while mentioning the center’s $3.8M price tag only in passing. While I agreed with Iovine’s suggestion that architecture doesn’t have to make big, bold moves to be successful, comments online did not share the sentiment and were instead shocked by the high budget.

A remarkably similar story appeared in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle. This time it was John King, gushing about the success of revamping a community space, the Hayes Valley Playground. The total cost of the project, which included a new clubhouse, was $3.9M.

"The space reopened on June 11 after 17 months of work, and on the morning I visited, it already was part of the neighborhood scene." Photo by Noah Berger

King is enthusiastic about the new community space, but unlike Iovine, he does acknowledge its high budget. “Indeed, the $3.9 million project is more than the city would have been able to afford on its own. But this and two other spaces in the city are being revived in a partnership between the Recreation and Park Department and the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit that believes in urban health as well as open space. The design work by WRNS included a pro bono contribution as part of the 1% Program created by local advocacy group Public Architecture.”

The question is: does this matter? In the end, these projects are built for the community, yet it’s the community who reacts negatively. Of course, as is most often the case, only readers who disagree with a story tend to comment online. King mentions seeing, “hipster moms watching toddlers clamber on low walls” but for a playground in between restaurants serving “a $30 veal chop” and public housing projects, who is this $3.9M playground catering to? This time, I’m not sure if I can agree that “the bolt-blue clubhouse is designed to catch every child’s eye, no matter their race or class, and it does so with a smile.”

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