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Spotlight on Public Places | Community News Focus

Building a Sense of Community

May 28, 1997|LESLEY WRIGHT

The cities of Orange County have long offered urban designers a wealth of material for case studies.

Characterized as "post-suburban" because it is not tied directly to a larger city, it has a wide range of architecture, neighborhood character and civic attitude. From the older towns of Anaheim, Orange and Santa Ana to the planned communities of Irvine and those in South County, it has intrigued planners who study what makes diverse places appealing.

To foster creative discussion outside the academic community, the Orange County chapter of the American Institute of Architects sponsored its second annual awards for "Neighborhood Places in the Public Realm."

This year, the urban designers focused on the county's neighborhoods. They solicited nominations from all 31 cities and chose six for excellence awards. Other entries received merit awards.

A common theme of the entries was the social activity and feeling of community that typified the neighborhoods, the judges said. Residents and visitors considered them to be places where they could gather, shop and feel a sense of belonging.

The awards ceremony, which included a symposium of experts, helped the designers, planners and members of the public learn what works when it comes to social places.

"It was a way to get the public to critique where we live and to get leaders to think of what makes a good public place," said Carolyn Newsom, executive director of the institute. "What draws you to it? If you like something, go to your city leaders and tell them why you like something."

The 10-member jury considered three criteria when judging the entries:

* The "value" of the neighborhood looked at how the place knit different sections of the city together and fostered a sense of community pride.

* The "appeal" included the character, architecture and conditions that made it appealing for special events.

* "Place-making" recognized communities that have been reclaimed or preserved by residents.

Keenan Smith, co-chair of the institute's Urban Design Committee and adjunct professor at USC's School of Urban Planning and Development, said the jury was struck by the diversity of the neighborhoods.

"I think that Orange County is definitely an evolving place," he said. "I don't think it's very well understood. It has more diversity than people think. It has a lot of history, and it's maturing around interesting historical focal points."

Six public places were given awards for all-around excellence. The Wilshire Square Neighborhood of Santa Ana was first and also won a "People's Choice" award. Garden Park and Woodbridge in Irvine, the Downtown Plaza in Orange, Lago Santa Margarita in Rancho Santa Margarita and Leisure World in Laguna Hills won the other top spots.

Merit awards went to Crown Valley Community Park in Laguna Niguel, Certified Farmers Market in Corona del Mar, the Parks of Rossmoor in unincorporated Orange County, the Old Town Tustin Business District, the Yorba Linda Civic Center Complex, Ruby's Surf City Diner in Huntington Beach and Balboa Island in Newport Beach.

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