By Josh Stephens.
If Don Johnson and Kim Jong Un designed a public space together, they might come up with something like Los Angeles’ Pershing Square.
Though flanked by some of Los Angeles’ stateliest Beaux Arts buildings — most notably the Biltmore Hotel — Pershing Square is pure Miami, with a bright yellow pergola and an inexplicable nonfunctioning purple bell tower. Then again, it’s also pure totalitarianism. The same 1992 redesign that brought the follies and bold colors also built parapets, curb cuts and expanses of concrete that cordon off the square from the surrounding sidewalks and make it look more like a bunker than a park. It does not exactly encourage public assembly.
“It’s closed off, not welcoming and very self-conscious … it goes to show how immature Los Angeles is as a city,” says Brigham Yen, a downtown real estate broker and author of the blog DTLA Rising. Without the centuries-long history of pedestrian traffic that East Coast cities have, the square tries to inspire pedestrianism rather than respond to it. That approach “backfires,” according to Yen.
For all of these reasons, Pershing Square earned the dishonor of a spot on the Project for Public Space’s list of “world’s worst squares and plazas.” That list came out in 2004, but it confirmed something that Angelenos have known all too well.
Now, an effort is afoot to finally do something about it.