From Yamasaki to reality

By RJ Wolcott
A plan from 1987 to redesign what is now a portion of the Capitol Complex serves as inspiration as Lansing gets federal help to transform an old parking lot. Courtesy of Bob Johnson

Lansing one of three capital cities selected by U.S. EPA to develop green infrastructure at Capitol Complex

Monday, Jan. 20 — In searching for plans to promote sustainability and ecologically friendly infrastructure in Lansing, Bob Johnson, the city’s director of planning and neighborhood development, found inspiration in the form of a long-shelved city plan from 1987.

The Yamasaki Plan — named after Minoru Yamasaki, the influential architect behind several projects in Michigan as well as the designer behind the original World Trade Centers — proposed a greener Lansing. Featuring significant water features and cultivated shrubbery, the park-like plan envisioned a massive mitten, accompanied by the Great Lakes, to serve as a reminder of the state at large within the capital. The showcase was proposed in the area between the Capitol Building and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Last week, city officials received word from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that Lansing was one of three state capitals selected to receive support to design and implement new sustainable space, a move that Johnson hopes will spark an environmental renaissance in the capital region.

A 14-acre parking lot situated between state offices and the Hall of Justice — in the same area as the Yamasaki Plan — is the target of the planned renovation. EPA officials hope to transform the sprawling concrete slab into a green space while offering tangible benefits to Lansing. The Yamasaki Plan will serve as inspiration, Johnson said.

“This project is really about the state of Michigan,” Johnson said, noting however that the final design, scale and cost of the project have yet to be determined. During the coming months, Johnson hopes to get input both from capital-area residents and Michiganders from across the state.

Alongside Madison, Wisc., and Olympia, Wash., Lansing will be aided by the EPA through the Greening American’s Capitals program. With project development assistance as well as design consultation, the program aims to promote ecologically-friendly infrastructure while beautifying urban epicenters.

“The City’s proposal highlighted environmental issues such as combined sewer overflow challenges that can be mitigated with rain gardens and other green infrastructure strategies that will reduce stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces,” according to EPA officials.

The next few months will be critical for the project, as city and state officials work to determine the scope of the project and consultation with the environmental agency gets underway.

Regional businesses and consultants will be brought on, according to the EPA, and any interested parties are invited to check for opportunities. After several design charrettes and generating final design recommendations, EPA officials estimate the project will take six to nine months.

Crediting former Gov. James Blanchard as well as Minoru Yamasaki & Associates, Johnson said he wants to get residents excited about the opportunity to add additional park space for the entire state to utilize.

Envisioning crowded buses of students scrambling to find their hometowns within the mitten, Johnson and others have high hopes for the Capital Park project.

“The point is that this belongs to the residents and this will serve as a prime example for visiting students and visitors to see our state,” Johnson said.