The city reboots Pershing Square every few decades. In the long term, that’s no way to run a historic park.

It’s not that Pershing Square is awful. The way that some Los Angelenos talk about it, you might guess that it was a failed park, a downtown ruin.

Maybe the issue is that Pershing Square hasn’t lived up to its potential, while the rest of downtown L.A. is now exceeding it. The park, which is more than 150 years old, has changed faces several times. Its current incarnation dates back to an overhaul in the 1990s, and while there are admirable qualities to the postmodern design by Ricardo Legorretaa and Laurie Olin, too much of the park was given over to defensive design meant to keep out people suffering from homelessness and dereliction.

Pershing Square Renew, a nonprofit public–private partnership in downtown L.A., aims to bring Pershing Square up to speed with residents’ expectations. The partnership has named four finalists in landscape architecture (from a pool of 52 teams) to redesign the park. Here are the finalists’ schemes.

James Corner Field Operations with Frederick Fisher & Partners

(James Corner Field Operations/Frederick Fisher & Partners)

The author of Manhattan’s High Line might be a shoo-in for any park competition this decade. Corner’s entry (with L.A.’s Frederick Fisher & Partners) emphasizes native ecology and design, with specific features that echo the surrounding cultural and civic landscape of downtown.

Agence TER with SALT Landscape Architects

(Agence TER/SALT Landscape Architects)

The most prominent feature of the entry from Paris-based Agence TER and L.A.’s SALT Landscape Architects is a “smart canopy” that spans the length of a block.

SWA with Morphosis

(SWA/Morphosis)

The design by SWA and Morphosis—both of which are L.A. firms—contributes a vast tree canopy as well as an artificial designed canopy.

wHY with Civitas

(wHY/Civitas)

L.A. young guns wHY partnered with the more established Denver firm, Civitas, for an entry that nests different kinds of uses within the park through tiered programs.

Arguably one of the strengths of Pershing Square is that the city revises it every few decades. In the long run, that’s no way to build a historic park. But until the city gets one that it can agree on—which could be March, when these teams’ final proposals are due—at least the city agrees that a park is what it’s missing.

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