TEN Public Spaces along the CicLAvia Route

August 26, 2010 at 4:34 pm 2 comments

This couple looks like they know how to use public space. This is actually a sculpture along the route... can you guess where?

In honor of our 10-10-10 CicLAvia date, CicLAvia is running TEN top TEN listings! So far: reasons, buildings, problems, neighborhoods, art, and what to do! Today’s deca-list features TEN noteworthy public spaces along the TEN-TEN-TEN CicLAvia route. We’ve listed them east to west below.

Unlike, say, much of the rest of the planet, but like, say, the most of the post-war suburbs, Los Angeles has some issues with public space! L.A. does have some great public spaces… but most of our public space is dedicated to automobiles. The rumor is that L.A.’s city fathers were actually worried about people getting organized and staging revolts in public spaces, so they designed the city mostly without any large central plaza spaces… and they encouraged more of the American Dream’s private yards and less of the public parks where we all can come together. Some of this is changing in recent years. We hope that CicLAvia can be an ongoing innovative use of L.A.’s public space… and CicLAvia can help us to re-think and re-learn how to improve public space around here. What do you think? 

We think all these spaces are… interesting… and worthwhile… but many of them aren’t quite perfect. Check them out on Ten-Ten-Ten and tell us what you think!


Hollenbeck Park, under the 5 and 10 Freeways

1. Hollenbeck Park
4th Street at St. Louis Street, Boyle Heights

Hollenbeck Park is a well-loved 118-year-old 21-acre park nesltled in the population-dense Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights. About a third of the park is a good-sized central lake, and surrounding it is a diverse array of features: skate park, tot-lot, tall trees, grassy hillsides, recreation center, bandshell, excersize stations and more. It’s great public space and very popular – well-used by folks of all ages, mostly for picnicing and walking. Hollenbeck’s only serious drawback is that, since the 1950’s a freeway has cut through it, creating noise and air pollution in an otherwise bucolic setting. 

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The Los Angeles River and its famous 4th Street Bridge on the CicLAvia route - photo by Peter Bennett

2. The Los Angeles River
intersecting the ‘via route at the 4th Street Bridge

The city of Los Angeles was founded along the historic Los Angeles River, but soon turned its back on the flood-prone and drought-prone waterway. After major floods in the 1930’s, much of the river channel was encased in concrete, and forgotten. In recent years, communities, environmentalists, and municipalities have envisoned a restored, revitalized and naturalized river in the heart of the city… but these efforts are proceeding slowly, and the river remains largely an eyesore. Is the river’s revival a test of the city’s commitment to renewed public space?

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Japanese American National Museum plaza - photo by Jenn Su

3. Japanese American National Museum plaza
First Street at Central Avenue

Based on its features, this could be one of L.A.’s great public spaces. It’s a pedestrian-only plaza space, adjacent to a historic building (No.4 here), a handscome new contemporary JANM pavillion building, MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary, and adjacent to a very lively very walkable Little Tokyo areas. There’s seating, and a few trees… but this plaza isn’t all that active… seeming to function more as corridor than room.  Taking more cues from the adjacent surface parking lot, than the plaza across the street – No.4 on today’s list.

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Japanese Village Plaza, Little Tokyo

4. Japanese Village plaza/walkway
Extending from First Street to Second Street, just west of Central Avenue 

Japanese Village’s central plaza is essentially a walk-street in an outdoor mall. It’s certainly private space serving as more-or-less public… and it works well. It attracts tourists, locals, young, old. There’s plenty of seating, outdoor dining, a bit of art, an iconic fire-tower, and people at nearly all hours of the day.

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Land of a Thousand Press Conferences, City Hall lawn - photo by Jenn Su

5. Los Angeles City Hall South Lawn
First Street from Main Street to Spring Street

City Hall’s south lawn seems to function as a de facto Central (mini-)Park for Los Angeles. It hosts Farmers Markets, other fair-type events, and is readily reservable for press conferences (selling point: city hall as back-drop – can be used in support of or in opposition to city policies), which occupy the site at least a couple times a week.

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Biddy Mason Park, photo by Jenn Su

6. Biddy Mason Park
Public courtyard inside 333 South Spring Street

Biddy Mason (1818-1981) was an African-american midwife who was one of Los Angeles’ early landowners in this area. In 1851, she arrived in California a slave. She later petitioned the courts for her freedom, practiced midwifery, and founded the city’s First African Methodist Episcopal Church. Her eponymous park is a very pleasant and popular resting spot in the heart of downtown. It also provides an excellent car-free mid-block walkway cut-through from Broadway to Spring. 

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Outdoor Living Room on 7th Street – photo by Stephanie Taylor

 7. Outdoor Living Room
on 7th at Witmer

Landscape Architect Steve Rasmussen-Cancian collaborates with communities to create outdoor living rooms. Very basic furntiture, in the public right-of-way. Places for people to sit and hang out. It’s a very simple concept, done all over the world, but sorely lacking in Los Angeles… ’cause we don’t really expect people to, uh, use those sidewalks, do we? Rasmussen-Cancian describes these projects as tools to stave off gentrification, as working-class folks tend to hang out in public spaces, while upper-class gentrifiers tend to favor private spaces.  

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MacArthur Park - photo by Jenn Su

8. MacArthur Park
7th at Alvarado

MacArthur Park is very well-loved and very highly-used, especially among Westlake’s Latino immigrant population. Until recently, the park had some reputation for illicit activities, but, under Mayor Villaraigosa, stepped up police presence has curtailed crime. Community activism,  economic development, park investment and more – have led to a much healthier park. (Joe’s additional obligatory anti-car comment: I suspect that the public works project that extended Wilshire Boulevard through the park in the 1930’s was a big factor in this park’s decline.)

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9. Shatto Park
4th Street at Shatto Place

Shatto Park crams a lot of activity into a very small space: rec center, tennis, a sports field, tot-lot, exercise equipment, basketball, and grassy hillside. It’s not an especially well-designed or welcoming or pastoral space, but day-in day-out it rolls up its sleeves and provides much needed recreation in a very population-dense neighborhood.  

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Fourth Street with Sharrow in Koreatown

10. The Streets of Los Angeles
All over the place

We nearly forgot to include this one… even though it’s really what CicLAvia is all about. Most of L.A.’s public space has been paved and turned over to cars… but it doesn’t have to be this way all the time. CicLAvia takes some of that car space and, one day a week, turns it back over to human-scale activities: walking and bicycling. We’re hoping that when Angelenos leave their cars at home, and slow down, and look each other in the eyes on 10-10-10, they’ll like what they see and feel and do… and will want to reclaim our streets for a rich mix of human activity.

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Apologies to other public spaces along the route: LaFayette Park, Aliso-Pico Park, and more… We couldn’t get to them all and keep in our top TEN list commemorating TEN-TEN-TEN.

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TEN Things To Do At CicLAvia Volunteers Needed! Starting this Sunday

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