RIDING BACK FROM an interview at a school garden off King Blvd., I came across a dozen guys engaged in a serious game of fútbol in a Coliseum parking lot. Curious, I plopped myself down next to Oscar Villatoro, a sweet guy in glasses who was sitting out the game because of a bum knee.
Why play here? I wanted to know. Asphalt is flat and fast, sure, but pretty unforgiving on the body.
There was nowhere nearby to go, he told me.
“There are fields over there,” he pointed behind the swim stadium, “but since they don’t play on a team, they can’t use the fields.”
They’ve tried playing on grass around Exposition Park, but security usually shows up pretty quickly to shoo them away, he said. So they just meet here. And they’ve been meeting here for a while — Oscar started joining them here last August, but they had been playing here well before then.
“In August?” I asked, surprised.
It was one thing to play there on a warm spring afternoon, but another entirely to play on sun-baked, shoe-melting asphalt in the dead of summer.
“Yeah,” he laughed. “Some of the guys get holes in their shoes and all that. But they like it.”
Apparently they do. They didn’t mind it, they told me. They had a lot of space in the parking lot and no one bothered them.
“There’s really nowhere else for you to go?” I asked.
“There are a lot of parks,” said one. “But you can’t play soccer there — it’s not allowed.”
Most parks prohibit soccer. In fact, parks do not only prohibit soccer, but many appear designed specifically to make it difficult for people to try to play soccer, should they feel inclined to try. Some of the South L.A. pocket parks sport strategically placed play areas, boulders, exercise equipment, or trees that chop up open space and make it impossible to play.
The desire to limit soccer playing is understandable. It tears up the grass and can turn a green location into a dustbowl. The space needed for games leaves less park for everyone else and scares away picnickers and people looking to relax or let small children run around. In park-poor areas like South Los Angeles where green space is at a premium, it’s not hard to understand why soccer usually gets the boot.
But the debate over the need for soccer fields is one that the city has been having for at least two decades now. You would think we would have come up with a better solution in that time.
For the parking lot soccer players, the inability of the city to act on the demand for soccer facilities means that the closest areas where they might have been able to play were almost two miles away.
“These guys all live around here,” said Oscar. “It’s too far.”
Since it is unlikely that new soccer fields are going to be built in numbers that can meet neighborhood demand, what if parking lots were looked at as potential fields? What made this place semi-perfect was the fact that it was fenced in on most sides, flat, and there were no signposts or other obstacles to the space. What if lots were just to be paved differently? Perhaps covered with a slightly softer or rubberized surface layer (more like a running track) so that they could be dual use? We certainly have enough parking lots around town, and most sit empty for large blocks of time. Could something like that be a solution? Perhaps you have a better one? Let us know in the comments.