A Patchwork Park in the Heart of L.A.
Submitted by Ron Geiger, Los Angeles
The Grand Avenue park will only win the hearts of Angelenos if it embodies the authentic energy that pulses through every section of Los Angeles. To achieve this, I propose we create a park that includes:
? Subdivided zones that reflect our diversity and inspire participation.
? A pedestrian freeway that turns three blocks in the busiest area of the city into a continuous park.
? Native landscaping that honors our history while creating a sustainable future.
? Murals that infuse the walls of our government buildings with creative energy.
New landscaping isn’t enough to make this park special. We can make it greener, wetter, more accessible and it’ll still just be an expensive slice of beauty for a small percentage of the population ? shoppers who wander down from Grand Avenue, government employees, bike messengers and the unemployed who want a nice pastoral place to nap. But what about the rest of us?
What will compel us to get out of our cars and yards and away from our TVs and neighborhoods? This limited space can’t match the vast natural beauty of Griffith Park, Descanso Gardens or the beach. So what can it be that will keep us coming back after the initial curiosity has worn off?
We must not only create a new place, but also the inspiration to use it. The following proposal paints a picture of an exciting, one-of-a-kind destination capable of inspiring repeat visits because it reflects and evolves with the most diverse and creative city on the planet.
All in One
People support what they help create. To inspire people from across Los Angeles to use the park, we should make them a part of the creative process. The Grand Avenue Intervention is an important first step, but it takes more than the one-time input of a few hundred Angelenos to create a living space deserving of local pride and international recognition.
What if every region in L.A. had its own space in the park?
Just as the city has been created by subdivision, we would subdivide zones within the larger, open spaces of the park. Each geographic region or neighborhood council would then be given the opportunity and responsibility to create and maintain their own space.
Imagine ? for the first time in our history, one place would contain a piece of every part of our vast, sprawling city!
Some may landscape their space to reflect their neighborhood. Others may create a photographic exhibit of their community or plant a garden or build an art park with open space for kids to sell cookies to raise money for their school.
If these zones become a crazy, patchwork quilt without a unified design … great! That is L.A . ? not the Hollywood or theme park L.A. ? the authentic L.A.
Now for a unique only-in-L.A. twist. Instead of mimicking the map, we give the location of each neighborhood section over to serendipity. A lottery would be used to assign spaces. Imagine Bel-Air’s space next to Mid-City’s; Studio City next to Harbor City next to Pico-Union next to Northridge. Unique interactions between all our diverse cultures would be possible every day.
Specific logistics and guidelines would need to be hammered out, with each section given a budget for the creation and maintenance of their space. But before worrying about the political headaches, think of the inherent marketing potential: Each neighborhood group that creates a space would be filled with evangelists who are proud to bring people to the park.
By embracing the manic, creative energy that makes our city unique, we can build a dynamic common ground capable of evolving to constantly reflect and attract the people who live here.
To unite these diverse zones, physically and aesthetically, I propose we draw on three authentically L.A. elements: freeways, native plants and murals.
Freeways for Pedestrians
We pedestrians should enjoy the same unimpeded flow we give ourselves as drivers. L.A. is the birthplace of a freeway system that allows us to traverse huge spaces in our cars. If this L.A. park contains a freeway for pedestrians, we can traverse the incredible diversity of the city in just three blocks ? with nothing but our feet.
Primarily, this involves the creation of pedestrian overpasses ? not like the ones on Figueroa and Flower, which remove people from street life ? but landscaped overpasses that leap Hill and Broadway to give us continuous freedom of movement. And your leisurely stroll from Grand Avenue all the way down to City Hall (pictured right) would lead to a public amphitheater where people come to honor, protest, perform, speak up and hang out.
The Past Plants the Future
As our population continues to grow, water will become more expensive. To create a lush landscape would drain city resources that should be used for programs much more important than some idealized park better suited to the Tropics.
We as a city can join the growing movement that appreciates the diverse, hearty native plants that have been growing here for thousands of years ? the stately oaks and sycamores, the native grasses that fill meadows with their colorful plumes, and the vibrant wildflowers that used to turn our hillsides into breath-taking fields of color.
These are the original citizens of L.A. and they deserve a place in an authentic L.A. park, because they are not only part of our past, but important for a sustainable future. They don’t need Colorado River water, nor pesticides, herbicides or intensive manpower to thrive.
This park is L.A.’s opportunity to honor the habitat that gave it life, while creating a future capable of being sustained.
Bring the Walls to Life
While the restoration of City Hall has certainly created a worthy landmark for the eastern edge of our park, we must find a way to address the drab and intimidating government buildings that surround the space. Our cash-strapped government isn’t likely to find the hundreds of millions it would take to rebuild, so we must find a more cost-effective way to integrate them into the new life this park will bring. Fortunately, there is a creative answer that draws on another authentic Los Angeles hallmark ?murals.
Imagine the beige walls of the Superior Court building (pictured above) turned into a vibrant work of art by local muralists. Unlike the freeway murals, which are easy targets for vandals, these front-and-center attractions for locals and tourists would enjoy a lasting and protected display space in our civic center.
While learning from Central Park or Las Ramblas (pictured below) is certainly valuable, the people of Los Angeles deserve a unique park that could only be created here. Let’s seize this opportunity to bring together all the diverse, distinctive attributes of our city to create a park capable of holding an important and enduring place in the heart of the city and its people.