Long Beach: The (Brilliant) Idea of Turning Shoemaker Bridge into a Park

The (hopefully not) soon-to-be demolished Shoemaker Bridge.
The (hopefully not) soon-to-be demolished Shoemaker Bridge.
The (hopefully not) soon-to-be demolished Shoemaker Bridge.

The author would like to thank City Fabrick and its team for contributing to this piece.

Well, damn. I’ve hit one of those moments where, unable to find even the slightest bit wrong with a proposition, I humbly tip my hat. To a politician. For his idea. About adaptive reuse no less.

The adaptive reuse that has occurred in Long Beach has been largely geared towards housing and commercial development: the Meeker-Baker and Press-Telegram takeover by Millworks, the Kress Lofts, the Temple Lofts (of which said politician is a resident), the Peterson Lofts… lofts, lofts, lofts.

And the other reuse projects remain, albeit innovative, smaller in scale: the several parks — nearly a dozen according to City Fabrick — which have utilized old railroad right-of-ways do not remotely approach the boldness of what can be done.

This isn’t to criticize the effort put forth; after all, places such as Trolley Park barely cover an acre of space and given this, density is clearly an issue. But one can’t help but chuckle that a .23-acre of space is considered a park in the eyes of Long Beach or that the corporate landscaping on Ocean is considered Victory Park (yes, I truly mean the landscaping) or that our newest “park,” Harvey Milk Park, hovers at .20-acre (though the awesomely named park — the first to be named after the slain LGBT leader — was just as awesomely called “small but mighty in message” by its creator, Vice Mayor Robert Garcia).

And here, Garcia provides the segue.

It turns out that Garcia wants something mighty in both scale and message — at least for Long Beach. His proposal to achieve such a stance? Use what will soon-be-the-former Shoemaker Bridge — to be replaced by a new one via Measure R funds set for vote at next week’s City Council meeting to go along with the still-in-planning I-710 expansion project–and, instead of demolishing the bridge, turning it into a park. That’s right: taking the singular, 1,000 foot vein which currently connects 710 traffic to the entirety of downtown and, once it no longer serves that purpose a la a new bridge, making it green.

Dare I say, is this almost too perfect of an idea?

The boldness of the concept is what is mostly refreshing, paralleling the innovation that is the urbanerd-heaven that is New York City’s mile-long Highline Park and the ambitious Atlanta Beltline. The idea finally — finally — leaves the quotes off of park and presents in an area desperate for park space, a true park space… And without the need to force any significance on it because the space, in and of itself, it so ready to be ulitized.

If this were to materialize, it would single-handedly double the size of Cesar Chavez Park while also connecting to Drake Park, currently being revamped.

Set to be demolished, Garcia will propose next Tuesday that the 1959 bridge be saved–and one can only hope that, following the examples of other brilliant adaptive reuse projects that result in greenspace, his fellow councilmembers will see the brilliance as well.

  • Jimbob

    Cool. Why doesn’t Garcia ever make “bold” efforts to address youth violence in his district? It is amazing how much urban design show pieces matter more than actual human beings. Jane Jacobs would roll in her grave.

  • Anonymous

    Why not keep the current bridge for 710 and stop the freeway expansion? Widening the freeway will bring more trucks and pollution thru West Long Beach, and it will induce more car traffic and more driving, at an enormous cost. What if this $1+ Billion dollar project were used to improve the Blue Line, such as adding express trains from LB to LA? Or $1 billion dollars could pay for 50+ miles of bus rapid transit on existing routes such as Atlantic, LB Blvd, 7th and PCH to connect LB to surrounding communities. The railroads are already planning a massive expansion to handle freight from the ports, and the Alameda corridor is underused. Why subsidize freight trucks on the freeways at such a high price to the surrounding disadvantaged communities next to the 710?

    A pedestrian/bike bridge over the LA River would be nice, but we could build one for 2% of the cost of the freeway expansion.

  • Ugh

    Always a Debbie Downer with incorrect correlations… More park space actually DECREASES violence and INCREASES safety: http://www.planning.org/cityparks/briefingpapers/saferneighborhoods.htm

  • Ugh

    Always a Debbie Downer with incorrect correlations… More park space actually DECREASES violence and INCREASES safety: http://www.planning.org/cityparks/briefingpapers/saferneighborhoods.htm

  • There is an attempt to stop the freeway expansion.

    Community Alternative 7–proposed by a group of community nonprofits and health organizations–which opposes any expansion of the 710 is on the table. You can read more here, along with links within the article that provide further historical background on the project: http://la.streetsblog.org/2013/05/23/long-beach-710-expansion-update-all-community-alternative-7-options-considered/

  • Jimbob

    This article does not show any correlation between park space and violence. LB has issues with poverty, housing, etc…parks are fine and good but they do not address that needs to be addressed. It is not an issue of being a “debbie downer,” the fact that you make that claim is callous. City leaders are not mear urban designers. That is “fun” but does not really address the actual lived experiences of residents in LB and what THEY need or want.

  • Denis McCourt

    If NYC can…why can’t Long Beach, CA?

  • Jimbob

    You can build this showplace park and your egos can get a bump but any “progress” you foresee will be quickly undermined by the public health externalities resulting from port expansion and the ongoing crisis of affordable housing in LB. But you will have a cool and innovative park. Its like you design types don’t really care about humans. We need urban design for the other 99%.

  • JDL

    The Highline is in a residential area. This is a bridge over one of the busiest freeways that happens to be a key artery for goods movement. Truck traffic results on lots and lots of diesel pollution. Not sure why you would want a park on top of such a public health disaster area. Its novel and “cool” but not all that sensible.

  • Ugh

    It runs not over a freeway but the LA River.

  • Anonymous

    Jeusenbe has it right. We need to put pressure on our Long City conceal to stop this unwanted and unneeded project. With SCIG and on dock loading there will be less trucks on the 710 freeway. This project will degrade the quality of life in Long Beach, We do not need to spend this huge amount of money to make thinks worse, not better. We need to stop the expansion of the 710 freeway NOW.

  • Michael McCracken

    All this is doing is utilizing the remaining bridge. instead of having the cost to tear it down. It won’t be attached to the freeway. An elementary school is right off of Daisy and Drake Park is on Maine, practically right next to the bridge. The amount of pollution is the same. The port and freeway are improving with less pollution each year. Why not turn the bridge into a scenic, quiet botanical park that offsets the pollution? We have enough playgrounds and soccer fields. This bridge is a crossroads for the activity around the city.; Not to mention, possibly the only park that could ever be gated and secured. It will be detached from the freeway and have only one end. It can be safely secured from transients, and crime in general. Can Drake do that? No. The spot this bridge is on has some history just look at hundred year old maps, the river wasn’t even there it was a channel with bustling neighborhoods on both sides until port expansion and the LA river project. Its a great way to return an artificial place back to nature. It shouldn’t cost much money either. Perhaps make part of it for reserved engagements. I think movie nights might be interesting.

  • EKT

    As someone who lives on the Westside of the 710 freeway and often works in Downtown LB I ride my bicycle over the Shoemaker Bridge because it’s one of the only protected ped/bike paths to cross the LA River. I challenge any of you to walk along any of the Bridges (Ocean, Anaheim, PCH, and Willow) during rush hour. I’m always shocked to see so many Cabrillo High School students walking these bridges to get to and from school everyday and managing to avoid the big rigs. The sidewalks are narrow and often crumbling. Also the railing seem uncomfortably low. This Hi-Line proposal is GREAT! We need it on this side of town and will definitely be used if implemented.

  • rdm24

    That walk seems terrifying, though I my guess is that Anaheim is the least scary.


From Park(ing) Day to Park(d) Plaza

Last year, City Fabrick–an urban design nonprofit which attempts to transform physical environments for people–opted for a different approach to Park(ing) Day. Instead of occupying a metered space, they opted–via nothing but black and white masking tape–to create a space for the public without losing a single parking stall. Their newest project, Park(d) Plaza, doesn’t […]