Village Matters: Is There Magic?

By Ann Christoph.
By Ann Christoph.

I dreaded the prospect of getting married, walking down that aisle. What if that man waiting for me at the altar was the wrong one?  “How will I know when I’ve met ‘the one,’ the person I’m destined to spend a lifetime with?” “You’ll know, you will feel the magic…” came the answer from those who knew more.

As a town we have these same fears. With many decisions we’re not only making a lifetime commitment, we’re deciding the direction of our town beyond our lifetimes, far into the future.  With the village entrance project we’re about to embark on a huge community commitment and I fear we’re halfway down the aisle with no magic to be found.

The greenbelt has magic. Main Beach Park has magic. They set the image of the town. They are pure concepts beautifully implemented. Save natural open space.  Create a park, a window to the sea where there had been view-blocking gas stations and shops.  These are clear ideas we as a community can understand and support.

The village entrance project’s concept seems to have two competing goals; maybe that is why it remains unbuilt decades after it was first suggested.  One goal is to create an attractive landscaped entrance, a park between the creek channel and Laguna Canyon Road that joins downtown with the festivals, one that enhances the canyon setting.  Another goal is to build as many parking spaces as possible.

After the council’s vote to proceed with the village entrance project, the town has reverberated with calls for a vote. Critics cry that there’s too much expense. Or aren’t there other priorities? Or they say that there aren’t enough parking spaces for the money.  They’re suggesting that we can get even more parking where the park is supposed to go.

To many the park is the main reason to build the village entrance. Years ago the sewage treatment plant took up that space. The city’s maintenance yard was there too and it remained long after Laguna Beach’s sewage was rerouted to Aliso Canyon and our downtown treatment plant was dismantled. None of these uses—the sewage treatment facility, the maintenance yard, or parking lots makes a fitting or inspiring entrance.

Does a parking lot front and center off the Canyon Road say this is a town of the arts, the town whose artists have painted the canyons, village and coast with loving sensitivity?  Does a parking lot say this is the town that saved the canyon, protects our unique down town and preserves our coast?

A park at that junction of festivals and town with coast beyond can make those statements loud and clear: that this is the city where art, nature, historic character and the coast combine to create a treasured community. Canyon foliage bordering the creek channel can remind us of the free stream that once flowed to an ocean edge lagoon.  Shaded pathways make a pleasant transition between downtown and festivals. The antique digester building shows that an artistic town can give character to its buildings—even one that treats sewage–and that this quaint building is appreciated and restored as a visitor’s center. There will be room for art to be displayed, for artists to paint new beautiful Laguna scenes, and for passersby to sit and absorb beauty, both natural and artistically created.

This is the magic we are looking for.

And it is the least expensive part of the whole project.

Let’s not let parking overwhelm the magic.


Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former mayor.

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