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Parks: Sometimes They Take a While to Grow on You

8:50 AM PST on March 2, 2012

The structure at right is to be converted into a satellite site for LACMA. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

SELLING SOUTH PARK ON their new park seems to be a slow process.

“It's all right...”

“I thought it was going to be a water park. Like with a pool and stuff.”

“There's no swings for the kids. It's nice and all, but what are the kids supposed to do?”

“It's not low-key... it's too open... no shade.”

“There's no grass where you can lay back with someone.”

“It's kinda ugly.”

“I don't even know why they put up this gate around it.”

Not exactly ringing endorsements of the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park that opened earlier this month at 54th and Avalon Streets.

I had hoped for a better reception from the visitors I spoke with, given that the project replaced an underutilized 9-acre bus maintenance yard that, over the years, had become strewn with trash and was a general eyesore. Moreover, the park has already attracted birds, provides the community with a peaceful, designated space to stroll, jog, and relax, and uses a series of treatment wetlands and water ponds to clean storm water runoff before sending it into the Los Angeles River.

What's not to love?

"We look dope!" pronounced Joe, Juan, and Astro (probably not their real names) upon seeing the photo. Passing through after school, they were some of the people who were more puzzled than excited by the park.

I'm not sure. I've been by it several times since it opened, and I am consistently surprised to see only a handful of people there at any given moment. Even on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, the few people I found there were not actually from the area and had only stumbled upon it by accident.

Confused, I went across the street to speak with the owner of the nursery to see if he could help me unravel the mystery.

He didn't have any answers, but he didn't seem bothered by the lukewarm reception, either. Like another person I spoke with, he suggested it would just take some time for people to realize it was there and take advantage of it.

"Creo que está muy bien" the owner reassured me in Spanish. I think it's very nice.

How long does it take people to find and cotton to a park in a park-poor neighborhood? There was a school across the street, after all, and kids were waiting for the bus right next to it or walking down the street alongside it several times daily. Few seemed interested in wandering through it. But maybe they don't actually need to actively use it to appreciate it, given how bad a state it had been in before its transformation.

“It used to be such a dumping ground,” the nursery owner said. "This is much better."

"Except..." he paused. "There are no bathrooms. Everyone comes to my shop looking for a bathroom. But [the planners] have already said they are not going to add anything else to the park.”

“And there are only three tables," holding up three fingers to make sure I got it. "The people can't sit down."

He shrugged, declared it was fine, and said that he enjoyed strolling there in the afternoons.

"But there are no bathrooms," he said again, waggling a finger in the air. "This is a problem."

I happen to really like the park. Have you seen it yet? What do you think of it? Check it out at 54th and Avalon in South LA and let me know.

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