He was surprised when they put the bike lane in a while back, he said. But then this?
“They never do things like this in my neighborhood!” he laughed.
He was referring to the new mini-park that popped up around Thanksgiving between 88th and 92nd streets along Vermont Ave. — the Plaza Las Americas.
“I know, right?” I had to laugh with him. “It’s about time.”
Then, observing that he was sitting in the hot sun on the stoop in front of his building instead of under the shade of the gorgeous trees, I asked if he’d used the park yet.
“Nope,” he said.
But, he liked seeing it and knowing it was there for him.
It made the area beautiful and inviting, which are not words typically associated with South Los Angeles.
And, he added, it hadn’t been trashed yet.
Someone from maintenance cleaned it regularly, and it hadn’t been tagged up or desecrated in any way. Or, as he had feared, turned into a hotspot for drug dealers or a source of territorial dispute between some of the gangs that run in the area.
Instead, the teens that congregated there would just relax with friends after school or work out on the fitness equipment.
People took good care of it, he said, and really seemed to enjoy using it, especially in the mornings, when it was cool. And, he liked seeing the folks on horses ride through it at night every now and then.
“That’s right!” I said, explaining that I had occasionally been surprised to find horses casually strolling along 98th St. at night on their way to who knows where.
“Yeah,” he said, waving toward the southwest. “There’s some stables over that way somewhere, I guess.”
Women said they liked having a place to walk with their babies and visit with other mothers.
Another man suggested some programming around the park — fitness classes, picnics, events for kids — would help make people more comfortable in taking advantage of it.
All were glad it was there.
What I found most interesting about it was that it was liberally used as a cut-through.
People walking or riding their bikes along Vermont would deliberately cross to the center parkway just to be able to pass through it for those few blocks.
And, it’s no wonder.
That section of Vermont is largely devoid of sheltering trees and the sidewalk is dirty, in poor shape in some areas, and there aren’t even grass strips of parkway to break it up along some sections. It can make a pedestrian feel very exposed to the elements.
The parkway both helps create a welcoming environment for pedestrians and gives that stretch a more human-scale feel to it — a rather remarkable feat, given that residents along the corridor are separated by six lanes, space for curbside parking on either side, and a center parkway (a total of about 150 ft.).
Now, if they could only do that in more areas around South L.A.
Like here, at Avalon and Gage.
The bones of a great little space are there — planters, a few tree wells (albeit broken ones), nice seating — but the actual trees and plants themselves seem to have been yanked up and cut down.
Which is why, instead of sitting at the tables yesterday, the two folks on their feet chose to shelter from the hot sun in the inadequate shade of a palm tree and a pole.
The same is true along Broadway Pl., just south of King.
The triangular island at the intersections of Broadway, Broadway Pl. and 40th St. has two enormous trees that can shade almost the entire space at certain times of the day. Adding some trees on the north end, a few benches, and some drought-tolerant plants or maybe some garden boxes in between could make for a lovely space for residents to relax.
Considering that residents are bordered by the 110 fwy. on the west, are at least half a mile away from the nearest rec center and a tiny children’s playground, and sit more than a mile north of substantial green space (in this case, South Park), it doesn’t seem like too much to ask for from the city.
There are a number of wonderful things in the works right now to activate L.A’s streets and make them more exciting and inviting places. And, that is all well and good — I would never say that Great Streets and People Streets don’t have their place. But, sometimes, it’s the littlest things — like fixing up existing and neglected spaces and structures — that can go the farthest in making streets more livable.
The park was funded by the County of Los Angeles and the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy