The Project Of The Century

The urban farming agreement, recommended by the park’s board of directors and approved by city council, adds significantly to the existing community gardening operation that has been an integral part of the park since development first began in 2006. This pioneering agreement marks the return of farming to the park land for the first time since Irvine Ranch owner James Irvine II sold a portion of his holdings to the U.S. government 70 years ago to create the air station.

“While most farmland has disappeared in this region as the urban areas expanded and developed, the opposite is happening at the Great Park, where agriculture is growing,” says Mia Lehrer, whose firm, Mia Lehrer + Associates, is a key participant in the park’s planning.

“Sustainability and community health are important values for the park’s master plan, and agriculture adds another dimension to the park’s sustainable nature. Plus, it will provide substantial fresh produce for the region on a year-round basis.”

In addition to the farm, the park will soon open the Great Park Community Garden, allowing residents who want to put their “green thumbs” to good use to obtain a plot of rich soil at the Great Park along with how-to workshops by master gardeners. With the growing list of features and activities, including a summer concert series, movies on the lawn, cooking and soccer demonstrations, Cirque du Soleil, and the signature orange balloon, to name only a few, the park attracted more than 400,000 people in 2010 and 200,000 so far in 2011. About 30 percent of the visitors are from within five miles of the park, another 30 percent from other parts of the county, and a third from outside the county, based on last year’s attendance.

The Landscape Architecture Plan

Ecological well-being is at the top of the park’s list of sustainable goals. Its vitality will increase the biodiversity value of adjacent preserves, from the mountains to the north to the coastal preserves near Laguna Beach to the south. Natural waterways will be reestablished and historic habitats will be restored, bringing back the county’s natural heritage. This will help maintain a healthy, natural environment in the region.

“Transforming the sterile expanse of a former Marine airbase into a living landscape is fundamental to the vision of the Great Park,” explains Smith. “The site is very large, flat, and featureless. The biggest challenge we faced is bringing life back to the place, daylighting the streams, creating wetlands and lakes, and re-establishing the site’s habitat of flora and fauna.”

A key component of the park’s ecological character is the Wildlife Corridor–a native habitat restoration reserved for wildlife movement that will be off-limits to park visitors. Another component is the Agua Chinon, a stream trapped in a concrete pipe, which will again be “daylighted.” Trails will enable the public to experience a mosaic of habitats for relaxation and environmental understanding. The stream corridor will change through the seasons as water surges and ebbs, reintroducing the public to the patterns of seasonal creeks.

Vegetation in the park will emphasize native species as a botanical backbone with an overlay of species that are xeric, noninvasive, low-maintenance, and well-suited to the climate and conditions. The park vegetation areas will consist of native “California friendly” plantings. Culturally significant plantings will include orchards, agriculture, and lawns.

Among the palm trees and other plantings in the park is a variety of critical habitats, such as vernal pools that support amphibians, specialized plants, and other species that require standing water in the spring. Hundreds of acres of wildflower meadows, grasslands, oak and walnut woodlands, coastal sage scrub, and varied streamside habitats will support birds, butterflies, and other animals that have been missing from the site.

“With great planning, such as the Great Park, there are lots of ways to create economic, social, and environmental benefits,” explains Lehrer.

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