Lawrence and Anna Halprin. Courtesy of Anna Halprin
In March 1973, landscape architect Lawrence Halprin led a well-documented community engagement process in Charlottesville called the Take Part Workshops that accomplished more than just uniting an array of residents and leaders to brainstorm urban design ideas. Halprin’s participatory workshops, influenced by his wife Anna’s expertise in dance, Gestalt theory, and environmental psychology, aimed to reshape participants’ values through immediate immersion in urban settings through choreographed, sequential walks called “scores.” Along with collaborative role-playing and other notational techniques, these walking scores stimulated an environmental and social awareness that contributed to Halprin’s design. Recent scholarship on Lawrence Halprin’s integration of design and community engagement has been gaining greater visibility since his death in 2009, namely through the publication of Allison’s Hirsch’s book City Choreographer: Lawrence Halprin in Urban Renewal America.
Lawrence Halprin’s work in Charlottesville included a broader urban design framework that surrounded the Pedestrian Mall’s eight blocks. The 1973 Downtown Master Plan produced by Lawrence Halprin & Associates (LH&A) extended into North Downtown, west into Vinegar Hill, and most significantly south into the Garrett Street urban renewal area. The LH&A Downtown Master Plan envisioned important pedestrian and ecological corridors, and more vibrant mixed-use connections to the Downtown. Despite the success of the Downtown Mall, Halprin’s comprehensive vision remains unfulfilled in the surrounding neighborhoods. Aspects of his design including mixed-use developments, smaller residential blocks, stronger pedestrian connections, and the socio-ecological corridor of Creek Park along Pollock’s Branch stream (now culverted beneath Friendship Court and the Ix property) are a few of the unrealized design proposals included in the plan.
Forty years after the Mall’s design and nearly fifty years after urban renewal programs resulted in the razing of the Garrett Street neighborhood, the Halprins’ participatory design process can be re-explored and re-envisioned for its potential value in helping enable residents and decision-makers to better understand the value of place in the context of planning and urban design. Reinterpreting the Pollock’s Branch Watershed aims to incorporate the lived experience of residents and community members to unearth the invisible or buried history and stories of the area. The re-examination of Lawrence Halprin’s 1970s design and community process can shed light on the future development of the area. The cultural landscape atlas component of the project will merge data, history, and the visual arts to create a compelling narrative about the past, present, and potential futures of the Pollock’s Branch Watershed.