Little parks, big impact
April 12, 2012
Four of Los Angeles’ newest planned parks could fit comfortably into a tiny fraction of Griffith Park’s sprawling 4,210 acres.
But the new parks, ranging in size from ¾ of an acre to 2.8 acres, have grand, out-of-the-box ambitions of their own—and each could play a transformative role in the aesthetics, health and recreation of their communities.
The parks will be funded by $5 million in state grants recently awarded to the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority, which will work with community groups to develop the new recreational expanses in Hollywood and Pacoima—both in the 3rd Supervisorial District—as well as in Elysian Park and Compton.
All of the parks promise to bring small-scale pleasures, along with forward-looking environmental features, to areas hungry for a little green space.
“I think that L.A. is just a concrete jungle. The parks are large and they’re far away. People have to drive to get to Griffith Park,” said landscape architect Jeff Hutchins, a principal in Mia Lehrer + Associates, which is working on the ¾-acre Hollywood project. “People don’t necessarily need basketball courts or running tracks. People just need someplace close by to sit and reflect and spend some time with their family.”
The Franklin/Ivar Park, to be created on a triangular parcel below the Vine Street off-ramp of the Hollywood Freeway, represents the power of consistent neighborhood involvement in getting such projects off the ground.
“We have absolutely zero green space in this neighborhood,” said Terri Gerger, who’s heading up the initiative for the Hollywood Dell Civic Association, a longtime backer of the project. “There is no park space for kids.”
The lot, originally acquired by Caltrans when the 101 Freeway was built, has been vacant since the 1950s. George Abrahams, an adopt-a-freeway volunteer who lives in nearby Beachwood Canyon, has devoted untold hours to clearing the property of debris and keeping its exuberant bougainvillea in check over the years.
Going through the lot, where homeless people and drug users once congregated, “was like an archaeological dig,” he said. “I pulled about five or six thousand needles out of that area.”
At the urging of the community, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy purchased the property from Caltrans for $162,100 in 2008, with a significant contribution from the developer NCA/Commonfund, help from private donations and funding from state Prop. 84.
Now the grant from the conservancy’s partner agency, the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority, will deliver $2 million to transform the Franklin/Ivar site. Plans call for a “carbon eater tree screen” to help absorb and filter polluted air coming off the freeway ramp, a water reclamation feature, a solar-gathering shade area, a water fountain, a demonstration garden, an “adventure play area” for kids, public art, and even an amphitheatre and grotto. And there’ll be Wi-Fi—an important attraction, Gerger says, for students at nearby trade and technical schools who are expected to use the park along with local residents.
In Pacoima, the impetus for creating a park on another once-forsaken piece of land is part of the movement to create healthier communities by carving out appealing places for outdoor activity.
The Pacoima Wash Greenway-El Dorado Park project grew out of an earlier county Public Health PLACE grant to Pacoima Beautiful, which is seeking to improve the health of a community that experiences high rates of heart disease, stroke, asthma, diabetes and obesity—all consequences of a sedentary lifestyle in an area where recreational amenities are few. Nearby industrial plants contribute to poor air quality, and some children suffer from what the grant application describes as “Nature Deficit Disorder.”
While the planned park itself occupies just 1.2 acres, it’s part of a larger initiative that’s eventually expected to create a publicly accessible greenway all along the Pacoima Wash and link it to larger recreational areas like the Angeles National Forest to the north and Ritchie Valens Park to the south.
“It’s the connections that are important,” said Ken Frederick, project manager for Pacoima Beautiful.
The city-owned property will benefit from $1.075 million in grant funding to plant trees, develop a free play area in a natural grass meadow, build a trail loop and create a “stormwater arroyo” that will allow plants to naturally remove contaminants from water as it flows into the ground.
The other grant recipients are the Los Angeles River Marsh Park in Elysian Park, which is receiving $725,000 to add an open air picnic area and community gathering spaces to the 2.8 acre project, and the Compton Creek Natural Park at Washington Elementary School, which will get $1.036 million to bring children’s recreational amenities and learning gardens to 1.3 acres of vacant school property.
With their environmentally-friendly features, educational components and public health roles, the new parks promise to be a hard-working bunch.
“A park can’t just be a patch of grass and a baseball field anymore,” said Eric Bruins, a Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority projects manager who’s overseeing the Pacoima and Hollywood parks for the agency. “It has to do many more things.”