I hate to get all bourgeois on you, but the eye does not lie.
The last time I ventured into the civic center area of downtown Los Angeles was to spend the day with the protesters of Occupy L.A. for a story. Their pitched battle with banks and government began and ended on the south lawn of City Hall. The place was a dynamic confluence of ingenuity and civil disobedience. The squatters, the solar arrays, the organic cannabis and carrot plants, the smells are forever etched in my brain – one of the most incredible views of downtown I can ever recall.
But after they were unceremoniously removed by LAPD, the grounds looked like Charlie Sheen’s hotel room after an all-night party.
Last Saturday, as I walked the new landscaping at City Hall, the eye couldn’t escape the native plants, the decomposed granite pathways, the new trees and greenery. It looked darn good – like a great city’s landmark should.
But the most striking changes that registered with me and my wife, Karen, came as we walked the steps and terraces of the county’s new Grand Park, a 12-acre urban space stretching from iconic City Hall on the east to The Music Center on the west.
In Google map terms, it goes from Spring Street to Hope Street.
When your feet reach Hope Street, the views of the Art Deco City Hall are breathtaking. The other not-so-architecturally significant buildings seem to have been given a face-lift by the new park, revitalized by the plants, public art and the Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain.
Olive trees and Japanese cherry trees are just a few of 140 species of plants that mix together in a way, well, in a way that Angelenos themselves do. The new park is a terraced landscape with a performance lawn for concerts and group yoga, an event lawn for music and book festivals, farmers’ markets and gourmet food trucks, and a fountain plaza that includes a Starbucks, an ATM and the modular Metro Red Line Civic Center station.
Still, the first thing that strikes the eye are not the plants or the fountain, but the magenta tables and chairs. The design choice by architecture and landscape architect Rios Clementi Hale Studios may be the icing on this tiered cake.
The lawn furniture are moveable, so you can arrange them in a circle for a group chat or drag one off to the side for some me time.
While the park does not pack the wallop of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Central Park in Manhattan, it definitely has made an impact on downtown Los Angeles. It’s part of the transformation of downtown L.A. that’s been going on for a couple decades.
Green, urban spaces turn me on. They are shafts of light piercing an urban/suburban darkness. They can be the only lawn a family can spread out and have a picnic. They can be the only space a kid can run with his dog and be safe.
Grand Park is not just a park for attorneys, clerks and city and county employees to sip lattes in between court cases. It’s a tremendous green oasis in L.A. for all of us. Yes, check your Google maps. I’d bet many of us live closer to Grand Park than you’d think. And on weekends, the drive is traffic-free.
Or leave the car in the garage and take Metro’s Silverline from El Monte or the Orange Line from the San Fernando Valley. The Gold Line light-rail from Pasadena or Montebello works just fine as well. And you save on parking meters.
I like it better when there’s no planned activity at the park. But that’s me, always seeking solitude.
After wandering the Grand Park, we headed for a french dip sandwich at Cole’s on East Sixth Street.
The end of a perfect day.
The environmental movement needs to think more about greening up our cities. It’s where the people are at. And though a green space in the middle of buildings may not be a natural ecosystem, it is saving a species: our own.
Steve Scauzillo covers the environment and transportation. He’s the current recipient of the Aldo Leopold Award for Distinguished Editorial Writing from The Wilderness Society. Follow him on Twitter @stevscaz/twitter.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.