CityWatch, Sept 23, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 76
RETHINKING LA - Talk is cheap and it’s hard to get people’s attention in a world that is filled with noise that comes from all directions via texts and tweets and blogs and billboards and mailers and editorials and advertisements and public meetings ad nauseum.
It’s tough to be heard above the urban din but all that changes each year when artists, activists, architects, planners, educators, business operators, and community organizers put a quarter in the meter and proceed to transform a curbside metered parking space into a temporary park, just for the day, as part of Park[ing] Day LA.
That’s the moment when a great dialogue takes place on open space, green space and public space, a discussion that continues long after the meter has expired and the park has been dismantled.
Park[ing] Day originated several years ago when Rebar, a San Francisco based art and design collective, transformed a metered parking spot into a park-for-a-day in an effort to make a public comment on the lack of quality open space in American cities.
For the last five years, Angelenos have participated and Park[ing] Day LA has truly crossed over from an aspirational journey into an implementation stage of development.
Valerie Watson, Chair of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council’s Complete Streets Committee, began her Park[ing] Day LA celebration at City Hall. She was joined by Councilmembers Huizar and Perry in a press conference announcing the city’s commitment to partnering with community groups in reimagining the streets of Los Angeles.
“DLANC has long supported and actively participated in annual Park(ing) Day events,” said Watson, “showcasing our efforts to promote the creation of world-class, sustainable, safe, and accessible public space, along with balanced, complete streets for Downtown residents, workers, businesses and visitors. It’s exciting to see Los Angeles build from this momentum to create our own innovative solutions to re-imagine our public realm.”
The DLANC Park[ing] Day LA installation included traffic calming, a bikeway demonstration and
a Parklet which is a new urban planning standard for green space that is built in the public right-of-way and is maintained by private property owners.
A local business owner looked out over the DLANC Complete Streets installation and asked “Why can’t it look like this every day of the year?”
Someday soon, it will.
The range of Park[ing] Day LA installations paid tribute to LA’s vast spectrum of creative talent, bringing to life the mantra “Streets are for People” in a wide variety of expressions.
A local High School Science Class took advantage of LA’s great weather and set up educational exhibits about urban gardening on Spring Street, embracing the “Edible Streets” concept that challenges traditional limitations of greening urban space.
Long Beach’s Office of Sustainability fed the minds of the community with a beautiful reading room on the street built from stacked apple crates filled with books from the closed Acres of Books which were offered to the community for free.
The Long Beach Depot for Creative Reuse promoted their philosophy of turning used or recycled materials into artwork and eco-friendly creative projects that stimulate the mind, feed the soul, and educate the public. At a glance it appeared to be an outdoor art gallery, and it was, but up close it was much more, a living lesson in repurposing and rethinking.
Long Beach’s Tiffany Tedesco brought the Bike Friendly Business District to life with a cluster of Park[ing] Day LA installations that was complemented by a Bike Tour led by League of American Bicyclists educator Chris Quint and local environmentalist April Eileen Economides. Bike tune-ups, bike portraits, bike parking and bike rides are all part of an approach to economic revitalization that celebrates people powered transportation and embraces public space.
Pacoima Beautiful (PB) got involved in Park[ing] Day LA as a tool for challenging a built-out local environment that discourages physical activity and is hostile to public health. The PB mission is three-part; to reduce local pollution, to revitalize the local community, and to train the next generation of community leaders.
The offices of Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes and Senator Alex Padilla joined Pacoima Beautiful on the streets as they brought their environmental justice program to life, a journey that was covered by Streetsblog LA as part of their coverage of the LA County PLACE grants and RENEW grants.
The DeLAB crew set up shop outside their favorite restaurant, Silver Lake’s LOCAL, and hosted PARK, designed by Silver Lake architects STANDARD and brought to life with elegant simplicity, paying homage to the iconic Hollywood Sign with “topiary” letters that resulted in Sunset Boulevard’s LOCAL PARK.
Echo Park’s Time Bank brought their vision for urban park space to the Circuit City Ruins on Sunset Boulevard, offering up the notion that a community garden, performance space, outdoor yoga and open-air classrooms might be a better allocation of land than the current chain-link fence and blight.
Global Green USA promoted Green Schools, SPOKE celebrated bike friendly businesses, AIA embraced Complete Streets, and DLANC promoted the idea of “flocking to, not speeding through, Downtown LA."
MetroDuo captured the Park[ing] Day LA experience on rail and visited the green space of Pfeiffer Partners architects, the NBBJ expression of “Rubber meeting the Turf” and SWA’s sun shelter made from recyclables.
Park[ing] Day LA was celebrated by many, from Inhabitat to LAist to ABC to KPCC to Echo Park Patch to Curbed LA to Streetsblog LA to UncoverLA to ArchPaper. In fact, the notion that “Streets are for People” seems to be getting significant traction, to the point that policy is shifting and Complete Streets programming is legitimized.
Park[ing] Day LA also had its detractors, some who grumbled “Streets are for Cars!” and others who simply struggled with the idea that urban life as they know it may soon include happy humans sharing public space in a newly greened urban environment.
The most vocal opposition to Park[ing] Day LA came from the City of Santa Monica which levied a $240 permit fee on the use of parking spaces, explaining that it was for safety reasons. “Imagine if a motorist tried to park in the space,” explained the Santa Monica Police Department, “and ran over everybody!”
Apparently the $240 permit changes the laws of physics and properly permitted celebrants are no longer susceptible to damage from motorists who can’t control their vehicles. Ah, Santa Monica, so much potential yet so much drama.
Park[ing] Day LA is celebrated around the world, on 6 continents, in 30 countries, and in 183 cities. Los Angeles is the proud host of temporary parks that challenge the current paradigm of urban space programming, resulting in innovative planning and policy that is slowly turning LA’s thoroughfares into Complete Streets that work for everybody.
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)