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Like waterfronts and transit stops, parks leverage value in urban areas. While much recent attention has been given to the signature mega-park, the value of the small-scale neighborhood park in reinventing the city has been overlooked. Once connecting neighborhoods of differing character, and sponsoring more than 80 residential structures along its edges, the historic MacArthur Park at the edge of downtown Little Rock is radically underutilized as an urban neighborhood asset. Severed from its neighborhoods along two edges by interstate construction in the 1960s, this moribund 40-acre municipal park is left with only 16 residential structures along its frontage. The planning concept optimizes the park’s latent economic, environmental, and social potential through improvements to the district’s neighborhood infrastructure, enhancing the delivery of ecological and urban services. This counters the greatest ongoing threat to MacArthur Park District’s irreplaceable legacy―incompatible low-density, suburban-type development that fails to define street edges, and is inherently cynical of the city. The planning goal is to align the park’s capacity to sponsor denser and higher quality mixed-use housing fabric throughout the district with improvements to the park grounds. Rather than treat MacArthur Park as a discrete project, planning for the district’s four neighborhoods extends the park’s landscape into a larger urban landscape network with MacArthur Park as the anchor.
Planning Approach: Creating an Extended Urban Landscape
Rather than treat MacArthur Park as a discrete project, planning for the district’s four neighborhoods extends the park’s landscape into a larger urban landscape network with MacArthur Park as the anchor. This network connects tree-lined streets, boulevards, neighborhood pocket parks, active recreation facilities, plazas, and other pedestrian amenities in an identifiable district. Besides enhancing streetscape aesthetics, the network systemically mitigates heat island effects, lowers ambient urban temperatures, calms traffic, provides ecologically-based stormwater treatment, and increases recreational amenities. These combined public work improvements will increase the district’s vitality, and provide a greater sense of safety missing in this public realm. The neighborhood plan offers a green fabric for new land uses, advancing the livability potential of downtown Little Rock. The planning vocabulary establishes three component sets: 1) components in the park, 2) components along the park, and 3) components that extend the park.
MacArthur Park: Structuring New Components and Encroachments within the Park
The management of park uses and building encroachments by special interests has been complicated by the absence of a park master plan. The proposed master plan reverses the laissez-faire development of the park grounds, which has resulted in an unsafe, neutral zone lacking spatial definition and civic identity. A design vocabulary based on territorial types introduces an overall clarity while providing spaces for prospect and refuge. The four types collectively increase connectivity within the park (loops), establish a signature water feature (island),
organize the large-scale interior (mats), and format specific programs, like auto parking, ball courts, and playgrounds at the edge (fields). The new pond at the heart of the park serves as a district-level amenity bridging neighborhood and park. Each territory features green technologies related to ecologically-based stormwater management, water recycling, and use of green materials.
MacArthur Park Frontages: New Signature Streets Along the Park
Neighborhood frontage along MacArthur Park is radically underutilized, and currently unsympathetic to the legacy of this historic park. Only 16 residential buildings currently front the park in the nine blocks constituting the 3/4 mile circumference available for development. Residents do not claim the park as an extension of their residential territory. Recalling Jane Jacob’s famous dictum for “eyes on the street”, such psychologically retreat from public space undermines the expected reciprocity between residents and visitors necessary in establishing safe urban environments.
Two planning objectives to provide desirable development along the east and west park frontages are outlined. First, introduce a shared street plaza with pedestrian amenities in the McMath Avenue right-of-way along the park’s eastern edge. High-density housing along McMath Avenue, involving attached and detached types, are layered in patios, courts and mews configurations similar to precedents found throughout the MacArthur Park District. Layered bands of mixed housing types uphold the small pavilion-like historical architectural massing profiles around the park while allowing a second layer of higher density housing. The proposed McMath Avenue street plaza connects MacArthur Park to Hanger Hill across the interstate via a pedestrian bridge. Second, high-density infill housing along Commerce Street on the park’s western edge corrects for the superblock planning introduced in the 1970s. Proposed courtyard and row housing configurations reconstitutes the district’s historical streetscape and block typology.
The Four District Neighborhoods: Extending the Park
The four neighborhood plans serve as investment tools to ensure future development compatibility with these legacy neighborhoods. Employing urban elements like shared street plazas, streetcar and transit amenities, landscaped bridges, interstate greenways, and public sculpture parks, neighborhood plans increase the delivery of both ecological and urban services now expected in urban infrastructure. Through coordination of public and private investments, the plans tailor economic development catalysts appropriate to each neighborhood, which collectively address the district’s untapped economic potential.
Little Rock, AR
urban design, context sensitive development, urban parks, ecological engineering, complete streets, masterplan
Architectural Engineering | Environmental Design | Landscape Architecture | Other Architecture | Urban, Community and Regional Planning | Urban Studies | Urban Studies and Planning
2011 AR ASLA Award
2010 AIA Honor Award
2009 Assoc. of Licensed Architects Gold Medal
2009 AR AIA Award
2009 SARA Award
2009 AR APA Award
2009 BSA Award
2009 MN ASLA Award
Community Design Center. (2009). MacArthur Park Master Plan. Project Reports. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.uark.edu/cdcpr/6
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