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Downtown Parklet Rededicates Parking Space to Pedestrians

Fanfare and foosball welcomed in two newly constructed public parklets camped on Spring Street between Sixth and Seventh Streets.

These parklets are small spots, once dedicated to vehicles, recommissioned into public space -- an über urban hipster idealogy of reclamation seen with CicLAvia and Park(ing) Day.

Spring Street, along with York Boulevard in Highland Park, where a parklet was just dedicated last Saturday, and later Huntington Drive in El Sereno, where a parklet will be dedicated February 16, are working toward making a greener and more pedestrian friendly city, say the believers.

Before it is declared as another step in a "Portlandia" transformation of an urban core, this is a park with curb appeal. The community driven declaration extends a sidewalk by carving out a common seating area for people to congregate, take in recreational games, or jump on stationary bicycles.

The parklets on Spring Street were introduced as "adding to the excitement that we feel for downtown," by District 14 Councilmember José Huizar, explaining that the hardest sell about this project was not bringing the parklets in, but changing public policy in Los Angeles that has promoted cars over people.

They are emblematic of a time when people knew their neighbors and interacted with each other face-to-face, added Huizar, who envisions that Los Angeles can be like that again. "Parklets may be small in scope, but they are tremendous in impact."

Gathered with Huizar were those who worked pro-bono on a zero dollar budget to create what he called "the Taj Mahal of Parklets."

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Photo by Helen Ly

Patti Berman, President of the Downtown Neighborhood Council (DLANC), recalled the team going up to San Francisco, where parklets originated, to look closely at public common area. Valerie Watson, once a DLANC member and now Pedestrian Coordinator with L.A.'s Department of Transportation (LADOT), said the parklets were one ingredient for a "complete living street."

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, associate dean of UCLA School of Public Affairs, noted that San Francisco may have been the first city to incorporate parklets, but Los Angeles is the first city to have a parklet double as a health and exercise space.

The demand by residents and community leaders to change downtown from raw space to living space is backed up by their grass roots efforts. At the dedication, Berman touted that while DLANC team worked pro-bono, the dedicated efforts to bring the parklets, helped by grants from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, a demonstration of how to "stretch out every dollar until you could here it screaming across town."

According to LADOT, parklets price range is between $20,000 to $50,000, depending design and scale. The Spring Street parklet will be maintained by the Historic Downtown Business Improvement District (BID).

The parklets, and the street experience which they provide, are part of a 14-month pilot program and a research source for DLANC, the UCLA Lewis Center, and the USC School of Architecture.

Yet, the green bike lane butting against the parklet is a reminder of another change in the city. The dedicated bike lanes were a surprise to the film industry, and became another point in the constant negotiation to keeping filming in Los Angeles.

What of the 40-foot-long mini recreation yards with fences and wooden planters? This is not a quick urban assemblage.

"They are not mobile," later confirmed District 14's Rick Coca. "But they are based on activity on the (downtown) scene. It's a vibrant growing community."

The film industry will always be vital, he said, but needs to allow ways to work around the changes in the city. "This is not downtown of the 1980s," Cocoa said. "It's not a ghost town."

And a parking spot becomes the spirit of a downtown looking for interaction between pedestrian and transportation.

Photo by Helen Ly

Top: Foosball table at the Spring Street Parklet. Contributing reporting and photos by Helen Ly

About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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