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Former Huntington Park Parking Now a Popular Parklet, More on the Way

Southern California's newest parklet on Huntington Park's Pacific Boulevard. All photos: Aviv Kleinman/Streetsblog L.A.

Southern California’s newest parklet on Huntington Park’s Pacific Boulevard. All photos: Aviv Kleinman/Streetsblog L.A.

A new phenomenon hit the streets of Huntington Park this year. It’s a space where people can catch up on their reading and feed their coffee cravings, a space where family and friends can gather together, and a space where business deals can take place right next to kids playing dominos. It’s called a parklet.

Parklets are parking spaces converted into sidewalk mini-parks. They primarily offer seating areas, also often greenery and bicycle parking. They foster lively pedestrian-oriented streets. For the unfamiliar, view a SF parket in this StreetFilms documentary.

L.A. County’s first parklet was in Long Beach. They have also come to Los Angeles City neighborhoods, including downtown and El Sereno.

Also, for the unfamiliar, the city of Huntington Park is located in Southeast Los Angeles County. The city has a population of roughly 60,000, more than 95% Latino.

The new parklet in Huntington Park is quite a wonderful scene. It features comfortable sitting areas and potted plants surrounded by aesthetically pleasing wooden tiles. And it is well-sited, located in front of one of the city’s most frequented coffee shops: Tierra Mia, a specialty Latin American coffee shop, located at 6706 Pacific Boulevard.

As I enjoyed my coffee that was sustainably harvested from a small finca (agricultural estate) in the Guatemalan highlands, I watched a young family with loud and happy children eating a takeout lunch, a pair of friends enjoying a fancy-looking latte, and a speech therapy session in progress, all taking place in the small public parklet. Taking up only three diagonal parking spaces on the bustling boulevard, the parklet is the perfect size to feel both large enough to relax and breathe, but petite enough not to take up too much room on the busy street.

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The Parklet’s pragmatic placement in front of the popular Tierra Mia coffee house

According to Fernanda Palacios, Huntington Park’s Community Development Project Manager, the parklet is park of the city’s Pacific Blvd. Revitalization Plan, designed to bring more activity to the city’s most prominent thoroughfare. Pacific Boulevard is a former streetcar corridor, and has retained much of its historic Main-Street-type commercial character. The street is dotted with restaurants, clothing stores, and specialty cultural shops. The Boulevard hosts a popular Christmas Lane Parade.

As part of the revitalization plan, the city has set aside a $60,000 budget for parklet development. These funds are from grants directly funded by Measure R and the Federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). The city’s funding goes to four parklets, each budgeted at $15,000 for construction and maintenance. According to Palacios, the city government does not fund the parklet with any of its own money, but it does contribute its own Public Works department’s labor to construct the site.

The $15,000 in grant money is used to purchase furniture and raw materials, in addition to touch-ups as the parklets age. With regard to collision safety, the parklet is surrounded by well-hidden K-rails (the same concrete barriers used to divide freeways) that are covered with wooden planters. In fact, I would have had no idea that the K-rails were there within the wooden planters had Ms. Palacios not pointed them out. Because the street space is owned by the city, no special permits or zoning variances were needed for parklet development.  Read more…

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Pop-Up Plaza Enhances Art Walk, Hints at What Could Be in Leimert

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The blocking off 43rd Pl. in Leimert Park created space for people to play this past Sunday. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

As we watched the group led by female elders drumming their way toward us, Rashida, a vendor of wonderful-smelling body scrubs, leaned over and said, “You can’t get this anywhere else in L.A.!”

She’s so right.

For the last four years, the monthly art walk in Leimert Park has brought together community, culture, art, and African heritage in a truly unique way.

Few places in the city, if any, feel so vibrant and warm as Leimert does on the last Sunday of the month.

Which is why the Pop-Up Plaza event at this art walk was so exciting — it offered a glimpse into the future of what Leimert Park Village could be if 43rd Place (the street running along the base of the village) were to be closed to cars and converted into a plaza.

The idea of making that conversion is one that many in the community have been kicking around for some time.

With the birth of the 20/20 Vision initiative — the strategy to drive the economic development of Leimert Park Village and its creative district in tandem with the arrival of the Metro station — the potential value of creating a plaza space has come more sharply into focus. So much so that the community is currently in the process of putting together a People St. application in the hopes of making that happen sooner rather than later.

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Drummers serenade a woman as they move around Leimert Plaza. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Speak to anyone who has been coming to the area for years, and you will hear stories of the incredible street life Leimert once hosted: chess games up and down the sidewalk, spontaneous poetry performances, live jazz blasting, and a strong sense of community.

The loss of Richard Fulton and his coffee house and jazz emporium, which had played host to much of that joyful noise, helped push that culture into hibernation.

On days like this past Sunday, however, when several generations of Leimert residents and aficionados turn out in droves to celebrate art, music, community, and unity, that culture feels tangible and ready to be revived. It is just looking for a home base.

A plaza might be a good place to start.

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Women serenade the plaza with gospel and love. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

In addition to the existing arts spaces and businesses, the opening of new gallery Papillion (on Degnan), the construction of artist Mark Bradford’s art and community space (on the corner of Degnan and 43rd Pl.), and the renovation of the Vision Theater (still underway), offer the possibility of a packed calendar of events that can draw crowds to spend the afternoon or evening in the area.

Read more…

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People St Launches: Plazas, Parklets and Bike Corrals on the Way

LADOT People St Flyer

After months of promise, the LADOT formally launched the “People St” website moments ago. All of the documents a community group needs to apply to create a plaza, parklet or bicycle corral in their own community are available online. An introductory project application period will open on March 3 through April 30. After this special period, the application period will be open every fall, starting this October.

When the application window re-opens in October, the community partners will already be working with the city to install the first People St projects.

People St is a new program where local organizations can partner with LADOT to reclaim a little public space for the community. Groups can pitch a project to LADOT through the People St website. If approved the department will work with the group to bring the project to fruition. For more details, read the People St info sheet available here.

“We know there’s a lot of interest in communities,” said Valerie Watson with LADOT. “People are ready to get their ducks in a row and build their partnerships to get their applications together in advance of the two 2014 application windows.”

In addition to releasing the formal applications, LADOT also released a series of manuals to help interested parties navigate the People St process. There is no limit on the number of parklets and bike corrals can be built through People St, although Watson noted that because the city will help pay for some of the design of plazas, People St is limited to building about four per cycle.

Currently, there is one “People St style” plaza in Los Angeles, the Sunset Triangle Plaza in Silver Lake.

“People St will foster a greater sense of community making streets more active and inviting places,” said LADOT General Manager Jon Kirk Mukri.

That doesn’t mean that everyone who fills out an application form and has the money available will see a project built in their community. LADOT has to weigh each project on its own merit considering community support, project location and ability to maintain the project once it is built.

“We are looking forward to prioritizing and moving the strongest applications forward to insure the success of the project,” Watson continued. If applicants are not approved for moving forward, they will be encouraged to strengthen or re-tool their applications and re-apply in a subsequent application cycle. Read more…

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A Look at Parklets from the L.A. Forum: L.A. Interrupted

(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…

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We Can Tell You How to Get, How to Get to People St

The People St program seeks to bring more plazas, such as the one above in Silver Lake, parklets and bike corrals through the city by encouraging partnerships with community groups.

“Thank you for liberating our streets,” City Council Transportation Committee Chair Mike Bonin greeted LADOT staff last week. While LADOT staff may not be used to a hero’s welcome, Assistant General Manager Dan Mitchell and Assistant Pedestrian Coordinator Valerie Watson weren’t there to present a typical transportation project, or even to talk about why some five-lane street in The Valley needs to have its speed limit increased.

They were there to talk about People St.

For those that missed it, People St is a new LADOT program, which will be formally launched next week, to partner with community groups to create more bike corrals (L.A. has 2), Parklets (L.A. has 3) and pedestrian plazas (just one…and it has polka dots). Mitchell and Watson were there to ask the City Council to approve a timeline for an application process.

In other words, People St isn’t just a flashy website. It’s a real program that’s going to create more space for humans on a small portion of the thousands of underused miles of streets in Los Angeles. The first application process will begin on March 1. The next one will begin October 1 with future cycles beginning on October 1 in future years. While the second application process is beginning, the city will actually begin installing the first People St programs.

The full proposed timeline is available below.

Once approved by the full Council next week, community groups will be able to propose their own parklet, plaza and bike corral locations and work with the city to make them happen. Some local advocacy groups are already working on their own People St projects. For example, the Los Angeles Eco-Village is already planning for a new plaza located near their Bimini St compound.

“Communities that know their neighborhoods best propose project locations and are responsible for long-term maintenance,” explains Watson. Costs will be split between the city and the community partners for construction.

Currently, the People St website is informational. An expansion of the website is planned for early next year. On March 1, 2014 the city plans that the site will be a two-way portal for people to learn about the program and for the city to collect project ideas from community groups and businesses. Read more…

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Spring Street: A Park(ing) Day Success Story.

“Over the past few years, the  community along Spring Street has  become much more tightly woven.  The ‘bump’ factor happens all the  time now. If not daily, then at least  several times a week, I will happen across not only people that I know but  that occasional person that I forgot I even once knew! … As a place that brings people together, Spring Street has become a thriving neighborhood spot and an attractive regional destination for other Angelenos seeking a brief reprieve in our little small-town urban oasis we like to call DTLA.”
– Will Wright, AIA-LA Government  and Public Affairs Director and Spring Street Resident

Click to read the report.

In 2011, City Council Members Jose Huizar and Jan Perry used Park(ing) Day to announce a pilot program to make everyday Park(ing) Day in Northeast and Downtown Los Angeles. The duo announced that four parklets would be built, two of them on Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles, as part of a pilot program. The parklets are now the only ones of their kind in city limits, although Long Beach built a couple of them too.

Park(ing) Day is an annual worldwide event where artists, designers and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks. A parklet is basically a permanent Park(ing) Day space.

Thanks to UCLA  and Parklet Studies, there is hard data on how the two Spring Street Parklets are performing. In short, they’re doing pretty well. The parklets were opened to the public in February of 2013. Researchers conducted their interviews a month later, and their report was released late last month. Both Downtown parklets are on the 600 block of South Spring Street.

“More and more, Downtown Los Angeles is becoming an increasingly vibrant and dynamic place to live, work, shop and entertain. The Spring Street parklets will add to Downtown’s unique urban atmosphere, encouraging and supporting a pedestrian-friendly, local experience…we are creating a model that can be used throughout the city,” promised Huizar at the parklets opening.

Reclaiming the Right of Way: Evaluation Report, is a 52 page report based on surveys and first-hand observations by researchers. Huizar must be pretty happy, because the data proves his words from last year to be true. The report looks at everything from how people use the parklets to how people perceive the parklets. For example, people feel that Spring Street is cleaner, they feel that their neighborhood is something special, and they’re more likely to start a conversation with someone they don’t know as a direct result of four parking spaces being turned over to the public.

Foosball and exercise bikes make people feel better about their community. Who would have guessed?

Research can’t put a dollars and cents value on such feelings, but even if that is the measure of success, the Spring Street Parklets are doing well. Read more…

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Parklet Party in Downtown Los Angeles


There were lots of cameras, but only one outlet broadcasted the parklet opening live.

It felt like a political rally.

“Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow” was blaring from the speakers. One speaker at the microphone, LADOT Pedestrian Coordinator Valerie Watson, proclaimed, “It’s the dawn of a new day!” from the podium. Roughly 100 people gathered in a circle, hooting and hollering at the applause lines (“Let’s hear it for UCLA!”) .

But, despite the presence of Jose Huizar, one of the Council Members that represents Downtown Los Angeles, it wasn’t a political rally. It’s was the opening ceremony for the second and third parklets in the City of Los Angeles. Parklets are extensions of the sidewalk, usually into what was a car parking area, that provide seating and recreational public space to encourage increased pedestrian use and community interaction.

This morning in front of LA Cafe, at 639 Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles, the Spring Street Parklets were officially open for business. These parklets join the Highland Park parklet as the only ones of their kind in city limits. On February 16th, the third Parklet will open in El Sereno. All four parklets are inside Huizar’s Council District 14.

While L.A. is not the first city to turn parking space into open space, the city has tried to do something different and unique with their parklets. In Highland Park, the parklet is not attached to an eatery, but is more of a communal open space that just happens to be located in what used to be a parking spot. On Spring Street, the theme is exercise. In addition to chairs, benches, and tables, both parklets have a pair of exercise bicycles. The one in front of LA Cafe also has a foosball table, although nobody pointed to that as an example of exercise equipment.

“More and more, Downtown Los Angeles is becoming an increasingly vibrant and dynamic place to live, work, shop and entertain,” said Councilmember José Huizar. “The Spring Street parklets will add to Downtown’s unique urban atmosphere, encouraging and supporting a pedestrian-friendly, local experience…we are creating a model that can be used throughout the city.”

In fact, the story of all four of L.A.’s parklets started at the community level. When Living Streets L.A. and Huizar’s office teamed to create community created projects in El Sereno and Highland Park, both communities selected parklets. At the same time, the Downtown Neighborhood Council, pushed by Watson and President Patti Berman were pushing a separate program to bring parklets to the Downtown.

“It all kind of worked out,” Huizar said of the timing of the two programs.

Read more…

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Highland Park Parklet Not in Front of Restaurant? Attempts to Create Public Space For All

City leaders and neighborhood advocates gathered on York Boulevard Saturday for the grand opening of the first Los Angeles parklet. Kris Fortin/LA Streetsblog

The first of Los Angeles’s four parklets opened up Saturday on York Boulevard in Highland Park. While its the second of its kind in Greater Los Angeles, it may be one of the few parklets across the nation that isn’t tied to any one business as it sits adjacent to a crosswalk, and is in front of a bank and a hardware store.

“In the city of L.A. we are prioritizing cars over people. We want to flip that,” said Jose Huizar, CD14 Council Member.

Living Streets L.A. began working to install parklets at York Boulevard almost two and a half years ago. Working with community groups, city departments, and CD14 offices, three more parklets will open up — two on Thursday on downtown’s Spring Street, and one on Feb. 16 in El Sereno. All four parklets are part of a pilot project to launch and support a citywide parklet policy.

Huizar along with Councilmember Jan Perry, introduced a motion in 2011 to support the pilot projects and directed City departments to develop a long-range plan to support parklets throughout the City.

Parklets across the country have been heavily supported by restaurant services, and in affluent parts of town. The first parklet in Southern California opened in Long Beach in front of a restaurant on Retro Row, which is lined with vintage shops and wine bars. Read more…

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City Council Poised to Approve Four More Parklets

Rendering of one of the Spring Street Parklets

(Note: Details on all three City Council hearings on the resolution authorizing four parklets to be built can be found at the end of this story.)

By Friday, the Los Angeles City Council could give the green light to four “pilot” parklets. Parklets are miniature open space projects where one or more parking spaces are converted into a small park right on the city streets. The four parks being considered include two parklets on Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles, the York Boulevard Street Porch in Northeast L.A. and the El Sereno Street Plaza. Streetsblog has previously discussed the Street Porch and Street Plaza here.

“I am thrilled that all four of these pilot parklets are in Council District 14,” said Councilmember José Huizar, who sponsored the resolution and represents the area where the parklets will be built. “From Downtown, to El Sereno, to Highland Park – community members have spoken and they want more pedestrian-friendly public spaces that support local businesses and neighborhoods. It’s a marked shift back to community planning of decades past, where now, like then, we are emphasizing local, sustainable communities where residents can shop, relax and spend time in their own neighborhoods. I look forward to seeing parklets launched Citywide.”

The four parklets would join the Sunset Triangle Plaza as examples of the city making use of its abundance of curb-side parking to create open space for all residents. While L.A. is considering a pilot program, parklets are already popular throughout California. Streetsblog actually held interviews for its Long Beach writer position in a parklet in our neighbor to the south and San Francisco has already installed 40 parklets throughout the city.

“These meetings are the result of many dedicated parties, within and outside of the City, working together over the last 2 years to bring parklets to fruition,” explains Madeline Brozen, the Program Manager for UCLA’s Complete Streets Initiative. “These first demonstration parklets allow for Los Angeles to join the growing list of cities who are using parklets to re-think the use of streets and enhance the public right of way.” Read more…

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Una Placita: Mercado’s Virgin de Guadelupe Shrine Creates a Social Space From a Parking Space

People gather at the Virgin de Guadelupe shrine in the parking lof of El Mercado de Los Angeles. With the emergence of parklets, and exploring the alteration of parking spaces to create people space, the Mercado's virgin shrine, which occupies a parking space, has taken on a life of its own as a social and spiritual space. Photo: Kris Fortin

The Virgin de Guadelupe shrine is one of the most recognizable landmarks at the Mercado de Los Angeles. The christmas lights that drape over the shrine make it one of the brightest and colorful spots in the Mercado parking lot at night, even with the Mercado only a few steps away.

Though patrons regularly visit to place flowers and offerings at the foot of the tiled painting, what’s often lost is that it occupies a prominent parking space near the back entrance of the Mercado. With so much attention on parklets in Southern California and across the nation, the virgin shrine highlights what can happen when a community,  not just planners or architects, have a say in shaping its environment.

Since the Virgin de Gualdelupe shrine started in Boyle Heights, it has taken on a life of its own. Forty years ago, female clay pot and apron vendors paid a painter to to cover the back wall of the Mercado parking lot with the image of the Virgin de Guadelupe, according to a 2011 Los Angeles Times article.

Esmeralda Bermudez, the Times reporter that wrote the article, described the evolution of the shrine:

“Over time, the painted virgin took on a life of her own. People brought her flowers and candles, kissed her robe and placed photos of their loved ones at her feet. Eventually, the swap meet manager paid to make her permanent, in tile. Read more…