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.

While the Parklet in front of LA Cafe remained crowded with city staff playing foosball, Bike Coalition staffers checking out the exercise machines, and reporters posing on the street furniture trying to get that perfect shot; it was the little brother up the street that gave me hope that parklets would really catch on.

Moments before shooting the above video, I walked up the block with Huizar’s press director Rick Coca. When we got there, a homeless woman, smoking a cigarette asked what was going on. When it was explained that the park was there for everyone to use, she smiled and got on the exercise bike. A couple of minutes later, she got off. Winded, the cigarette still dangling from her hand, she thanked us and said that was “the first exercise she got in years.”

“Will you come back and do it again?” I shouted after her?

“Sure. If you don’t take it up, I’ll use it every day.”

Huizar’s office asked that I extend their thanks to project supporters, all of whom volunteered their time and expertise: Valerie Watson (with the DTLA Neighborhood Council but now with LADOT); Parklet Studies; Ahbe Landscape Architects; Secret Agent PR, LA Café; Syrup Desserts and City Loft Square.

And to the Construction Team, many of whom also donated labor:

Hensel Phelps Construction Co.; Beck Steel, Inc.; Bison Innovation Products; Chaparral; Great Western Park & Playground; JJ Roberts & Son; Letner Roofing; Old Town Fiberglass; Olson Visual; Pinnacle Landscape Company; Pro Steel Erectors Inc.; R B Welding, Inc.; S and S Construction Services; Squires Lumber; Stepstone, Inc.; United Rentals, and White Cap Construction Supply.


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