(The following article appeared in the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design Fall 2013 Newsletter, available here. For information on how to join the forum, click here. In addition to other benefits, members receive a paper copy of the newsletter in the mail. – DN)
City leaders and neighborhood advocates gathered on York Boulevard Saturday for the grand opening of the first Los Angeles parklet. Kris Fortin/LA Streetsblog
Last February, urban designers, architects, landscape architects, politicians, and bike activists flocked downtown to attend a ribbon cutting for two parklets on Spring Street. The opening was half spectacle and half entreaty for new types of public interaction in Downtown L.A. (DTLA), a neighborhood that feels the tension between burgeoning – even booming – new development and the very real proximity to Skid Row.
The small parks, each 6 feet by 40 feet (the size of two parking spaces) and located between 6th and 7th streets, seemingly appeared overnight. Fashioned with planters, benches, and exercise bikes, they were ready to engage downtown residents, workers, homeless and tourists alike. With their playful, brightly hued design, the mini-parks offer a micro-spectacle, sparking a pedestrians’ curiosity, creating an event on the street. Yet their purpose runs deeper than simply eye-catching display; the parklets, part of a larger city initiative, attempt to redefine how Angelenos interact and view urban design and public spaces.
On a morning in late March, I met with Valerie Watson, assistant pedestrian coordinator for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT). We sat in one of the parklets at a galvanized-steel bar planted with low-maintenance and drought-tolerant plants. Proposed to te city council in 2011 and appointed this year, Watson’s position at LADOT seems contrary to the dominant car culture identity of L.A.
Watson is part of the team at LADOT shaking things up in the city and changing the car-pedestrian paradigm. Outgoing mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s agenda – likely to be continued by incoming mayor Eric Garcetti, who took office on July 1 – to develop a network of bike lanes, build fifty pocket parks, and increase pedestrian safety has hit a few roadblocks as the city finds itself caught between the needs of drivers and those of the walking public. Read more…