Atop the highest sections of the park, three platforms, which Corner calls "overlooks," will offer views of the ocean to the west, the pier and Palisades Park to the northwest, and toward 2nd Street to the north. In earlier versions the overlooks were marked by simple white rectangular frames, which seemed a nod to the work of California Light and Space artists like Robert Irwin and Larry Bell, who used spare forms to dramatize ideas about vision, perspective and artifice. The frames are gone, and the overlooks are now wrapped in woven, basket-like forms: a more organic, less nervy solution.
The section of the park in front of City Hall, meanwhile, remains unfinished. Field Operations produced a design for that portion that was — compared with the area across the street — spare and rather formal. His hands tied by historic-landmark guidelines, which protect not just the City Hall building itself but also the nondescript lawns and rose gardens in front of it, Corner decided to play up the differences between the two sides of Main Street. He made the smaller section of the park restrained and rectilinear where the larger one is aggressively fluid.
Fascinatingly enough, Santa Monica officials have with near unanimity decided that the design in front of City Hall is too meek. They are trying to work around the historic-preservation restrictions and have told Corner and his firm that they want something more dramatic in that space.
Phil Brock, a Parks and Recreation commissioner for the city, said the city ought "to allow Mr. Corner to punch it up a little more. Don't allow it to be diluted too much."
"I'd like to see a more adventurous design," Mayor Richard Bloom said flatly.
Those comments suggest the tricky and sometimes contradictory course that Corner has had to navigate in Santa Monica. Listen to us, the public says, in workshop after workshop. Change this. Incorporate that. Meanwhile, public officials, fully aware of the role that the High Line has played in New York, are saying something else. Make it bolder. Don't hold back.
On balance, the Field Operations proposal holds terrific promise for Santa Monica. It is another sign that the city, smaller and more nimble than Los Angeles, is miles ahead of its lumbering neighbor in thinking comprehensively about how mobility, urban design and civic identity are connected. But if there are also faint signs of concession and even whiplash in Corner's design — signs of a landscape architect struggling to be a visionary and a good listener at the same time — can you really blame him?