Friday, August 28, 2009

CityWatchLA - Great Cities Make Room for People

CityWatch, Aug 28, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 69

Great Cities are great for many reasons but they typically share one thing in common, a commitment to creating and maintaining a foundation of vibrant and dynamic public space that brings people together and creates community.

Los Angeles definitely qualifies as a Great Big City but as for the elements of greatness, LA comes up short when it comes to how it allocates and utilizes its public space. It’s not that there is a shortage; it’s just that the access and use is limited.

In Sydney, kids play cricket outside Town Hall. In Melbourne, mothers with prams meet under the Flinder Station Clock. In Budapest, locals congregate at Hösök Terén (Heroes Square).

Munich features Fischer Brunnen for those who need a meeting place. New Yorkers can find both solitude for the individual and concerts for the masses in Central Park. Meanwhile, Chicago raised the bar on public space with its innovative and versatile Millennium Park.

Around the world, Great Cities provide parks so people can walk, so they can picnic, so they can relax, so they can skate, so they can run, so they exercise, socialize, visualize, and romanticize.

Some Great Cities refer to their parks as the city’s lungs because they clean the air. Other cities build them on rooftops and use them to insulate and contribute to the sustainability of the buildings. Parks are even used to collect and clean rainwater and to contribute to the community’s water reclamation efforts.

As for public space in Los Angeles, well, that’s where you’ll most likely find people honing their parallel parking skills. After all, as for the utilization of public space, LA has more parking spaces per capita and less parkland space per capita than any of the Great Cities.

LA is parkland poor but parking space rich.

Los Angeles County has seven parking spaces for every registered car, all of them standing by on the off chance that a motorist somewhere might need to pick up some late night snacks at the local Piggly Wiggly. Heaven forbid he/she can’t find a parking space close to the front door. Angelinos somehow consider a parking space within walking distance to be a basic right, yet they yawn when confronted with the fact that only 34% of the children in Los Angeles live within walking distance of a public park.

The absurdity of this scenario is driven home when one considers that in LA, the nation’s capitol for homelessness, it’s illegal to have a homeless car but homeless people are simply irrelevant.

LA has it upside down!

On Friday, September 18, artists, urban planners, neighborhood councils and activists will address the allocation and utilization of LA’s public space by stepping up to the curb, putting a quarter in the meter and turning that curbside park[ing] space into a temporary park, all in a celebration of Park[ing] Day LA and in an attempt to start the dialogue that our city leadership has avoided for too long.

How does the largest City in the most populated State in the most powerful Nation in the World allow the rights of inanimate objects to take precedent over the rights of humans?

When is Los Angeles going to take a giant step toward becoming a Great City by committing to creating local community parks so that all Angelinos live within walking distance of a park.

East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, the park poorest NC in the City of Los Angeles, has two Park[ing] Day LA celebrations planned. The first park, “Rec Center,” will take place at Heliotrope & Melrose and will become a permanent pocket park after Park[ing] Day LA is over. LA Guerrilla Garden[ing] will repurpose the Park[ing] Day LA plants and leave East Hollywood one park richer.

The second East Hollywood Neighborhood Council Park will take place on Santa Monica Boulevard between Madison and Westmoreland, right in front of the City of LA’s Street Lighting Yard.

The Lighting Yard is a very large facility, nestled in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood and surrounded by a large number of elementary schools, all within walking distance.

It’s across the street from the Cahuenga Library; a beautiful old building that should be complemented with great public space. It’s bordered by an imposing chain link fence and it’s used to house LA’s light poles and fixtures and equipment.

It’s used for storage. It’s a lay-down yard, a staging facility. It could be anywhere but it’s right in the middle of a vital community and it’s an eyesore.

Meanwhile, kids play soccer in busy streets, vendors sell ice cream at the adjacent Metro Station, kids hang out at the 7-Eleven and community leaders look at the Light Yard and ask “Why not a Park?”

The East Hollywood Neighborhood Council will build a park outside the light yard on September 18 and they will demonstrate that Santa Monica Boulevard, right across the street from the Cahuenga Library, is a great place for a park.

If you’d like to participate in Park[ing] Day LA but are unsure as to where to start, how to build a park, how to frame your message or how to engage your community, come by East Hollywood on Saturday, September 5 for a Park[ing] Day LA workshop.

At 9 in the morning, the Greensters, LA’s first pedal powered transpo team, will be delivering Park[ing] Day LA materials to Santa Monica Boulevard.

From 10am to 2pm, join the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, local community activists, the Greensters, an Urban Forester and people who simply want to engage the leadership of Los Angeles in a robust discussion on LA’s public space.

Park[ing] Day LA Workshop
Saturday, September 5 from 10am until 2pm
4590 Santa Monica Blvd. LA, CA 90029
Between Madison and Westmoreland, south side of the street.
Two blocks east of the Santa Monica & Vermont Red Line Station.

Contact for more information.

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist activist and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at
Photo credit: Flickr. ◘

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