As We See It

How critical is art and design to the future of Maryland Parkway?

Huntridge Circle Park was shut down in 2006 by the city because of safety issues involving the homeless, but was reopened in 2011.
Photo: Steve Marcus

Maryland Parkway is a critical and lengthy stretch of road traversed daily by residents across the Valley. Flowing from McCarran International Airport to Cashman Field, it also branches off to beloved residential areas: the Historic John S. Park neighborhood, Paradise Palms, the Las Vegas Country Club and Huntridge Neighborhood (with Huntridge Circle Park literally dividing the north and south lanes at one point).

It takes us to the UNLV campus, Sunrise Hospital, the Boulevard Mall and Fremont Street. Chains and independent businesses. Regulars have lunched at Paymon's Mediterranean Cafe for more than two decades. And the curiously interesting Michael Graves-designed Clark County Library sits just a stone's throw from it.

But the corridor is infamous for pedestrian hazards and deaths, along with some displeasing aesthetics. So once the Maryland Parkway revitalization project was officially in motion, with the Regional Transportation Commission studying light rail and rapid-transit bus lane possibilities at the center, UNLV chipping away at its Midtown Project and all the entities (including the city, county and Urban Land Institute) coming together, a $50,000 National Endowment creative place-making grant was awarded for a study designed to revitalize the area through art and create a sense of place.

The Our Town grant awarded in 2014 was one of 66 handed out to organizations in 38 states that year and matched with $30,000 from the city, county and UNLV (totaling more than $100,000 for the study, including in-kind donations)—a boon for advocates of art's potential to improve not only aesthetics and economics, but safety and all-around livability. But before moving forward, representatives wanted to hear from those personally invested. In addition to those employed along Maryland Parkway, 50,000 residents live in neighborhoods on the nearly six-mile transit corridor carrying close to 10,000 passengers daily.

The Maryland Parkway Public Art Urban Art Design Plan was introduced this month at the first of four public meetings designed to gather input from the community. Craig Palacios' and Tina Wichmann's BunnyFish Studio is the architecture firm hired to conduct the study, and Palacios suggested possible breathing points—landscapes, congregation areas with art and design elements—that could identify the neighborhoods behind the storefronts.

From there came ideas, concerns and stories. Among them: bike and walking paths, distaste for palm trees, an appreciation of indigenous plants, unobtrusive lighting options, "ugly vacant lots" that could be turned into green-growth projects, landowners putting up murals or doing something to beautify empty buildings. A pedestrian street crossing was referred to as "taking your life in your hands" more than once.

Some suggested a park and ride, a bike-share program, an homage to the Hispanic culture and the Hispanic Museum housed in Boulevard Mall (more than half the residents along the corridor belong to minority groups).

Many spoke of design that reflects the character and identity of the neighborhoods. “It’s really, really important that we identify the neighborhoods,” said Jack LeVine, a longtime resident and real-estate agent known for his love of mid-century modern architecture. “There are neighborhoods all up and down that need to be identified.”

Writer Ed Fuentes suggested identifying and recognizing certain people raised in the neighborhoods through monuments, murals or plaques. Palacios mentioned the High Line in New York City as inspiration. “It’s something we will be getting lessons from in some capacity,” he said, adding “We’re very lucky here in Las Vegas, because of the opportunities for landscape.”

The creative conversation included David Swallow from the RTC, County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who lives in the area, and Claytee White, director of UNLV's Special Collections, who introduced the idea of gathering oral histories.

It's a long haul. As Palacios said, Maryland Parkway revitalization has been in process for several years and will continue for several years. The estimate for the public art urban design master plan completion is 2016. Then implementation will begin.

The Maryland Parkway Project isn't taken lightly. Nevada Arts Council Executive Director Susan Boskoff said in a statement, "The collaboration between Clark County, the City of Las Vegas, UNLV, the Regional Transportation Commission and the Urban Land Institute is worthy of national recognition, and hopefully will provide a model for other communities, large and small, in Nevada.”

For many, it's deeply personal. “This is something that came across my desk, and I instantly wanted to do this project. I spent a lot of my life on Maryland Parkway,” Palacios said, mentioning memories of Record Exchange and times spent at the Boulevard Mall. “It's where I went to UNLV, where I grew up.”

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Kristen Peterson

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