Yesterday was another step in the right direction toward urban maturity for Los Angeles. The largest portion of the 16-acre Grand Park opened to the public for the first time since access to the area was closed off two years ago for construction. Many Angelenos gathered to celebrate this milestone in Downtown LA as we continue to embrace urbanism. Two other sections of the park leading up to City Hall remain closed off for now — so that the vegetation/landscaping have time to grow in — with opening dates scheduled for August and October of this year.
High quality public spaces such as parks are so important to the fabric of urban environments. In fact, they are absolutely mandatory if we want to create a livable city that our residents will love and enjoy. A park that is well executed will allow people to gather as a community and feel connected with the city as a result. In addition, a great park can also be an economic development catalyst since businesses and property values do well when there are lots of people attracted to an area.
That is why I was so happy to see Grand Park finally open, especially since it was this park, in particular, that got me involved with Downtown LA development when I first graduated from college in 2004: a goal to remove the twin county buildings.
It was a bittersweet moment for me to be inside the new Grand Park. Although it is definitely the beginning of great change for Downtown LA when it comes to adding more high quality public space, the twin county buildings that flank Grand Park were a constant reminder how much more work is needed to make this a truly great park.
There are a lot of things done right inside the park such as the abundance of grass and seating made available. The hot pink chairs and benches are a refreshing fun change from the usual “metallic silver” used liberally for public furniture. The refurbished fountain is also just spectacular. Aesthetically, the park is pleasing to the eye, which is a big plus for a suburban-dominated city that has very few aesthetically-inclined urban spaces. We actually did something right.
However, all the wonderful activity generated inside the park is trapped and not allowed to connect or interact with the city “outside” because the monolithic county buildings restrict access into and out of the park both visually and physically. As a result, First and Temple Streets — that border the park on its northern and southern boundaries — continue to be ignored, remaining dull, bland, and lifeless as opposed to streets that would breathe life and energy into the city activated by pedestrians going in and out of the park.
But there is good news! LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky made a reference about the removal of the county buildings during his speech inaugurating the park. “One day these county buildings will be removed and we will triple the size of this park!”
The County Buildings Block Grand Park
Grand Park Hidden Behind the County Buildings