Grand Park: Half-Way There
August 1, 2012 1 Comment
LA’s newest park opened this week with a splash (literally… there were tons of people, myself included, splashing around in the fountain’s membrane pool), but it’s only half way there.
I say this not to be negative, but because the park is actually only half open. The first two blocks (which are really contiguous as one) opened this week, but the final two will open later in the fall.
It’s hard to accurately judge the park before it’s completely open, but I’d like to give a quick review anyway.
First of all, I love the park. It’s been compared to Central Park in New York and Millennium Park in Chicago, with some push back from those involved in making it happen as well as those who are critical of the new park. Instead of focusing on “this one’s larger” or “this one has more art” and similar specifics, though, I think that the parks all accomplish a similar thing regardless of how different they may actually be. Its still opening week and the awe hasn’t worn off, but I’ve spent one afternoon and another evening at the park and it’s been full of people walking around, sitting at tables, reading, eating, playing in the fountain, taking pictures, and more both times. What the park does is give residents, employees, tourists, and anyone else a place to relax, a place to come together for events, a place to enjoy the beautiful weather, and a place to sit and appreciate the city. In this way, the park is very much like both Central Park and Millennium Park.
My fiancée spent much of the day on Monday at the park and later exclaimed “This makes me like Downtown so much more!” Similarly, I’ve had people comment on some of my pictures “That looks amazing, like a real city.” Of course, you and I have known all along that Los Angeles is a real city, but the park has already added a distinct level of civic pride that is often lacking around here. Personally, I also love the statues and plaques throughout the park… ones that were already there, but are now more visible to the greater public.
I can’t walk through a new public space like this without just a few suggestions for what would make it better. The park is broken by cross streets, and even without the blocks on each side of Hill St. being open, it’s already clear that this will be a problem. Steve Lopez, from the LA Times, suggested building pedestrian bridges to connect the park on both sides of the cross streets. I get what he’s suggesting, but I agree instead with Carter Rubin who replied that “[Pedestrian] bridges would be inappropriate… Parks need to interact with streets, not avoid them.”
Bridges would ruin the flow of the park and separate it even more than the street alone does. Even though movement would technically be unrestricted, the blocked sight lines and constrained routes the bridges would create will be more of a detriment than improvement. Lopez seems to take issue with the fact that you have to wait to cross. That is, in my opinion, not so much of a problem as the fact that the park design is completely halted and broken by the streets. A better solution would be to improve the crossings.
Take, for example, the Hill Street crossing, where the Civic Center Metro station is located. Unfortunately, because of budget the parking ramps could not be reconfigured–maybe in the future, but for now we’ll play with what we’ve got. The station elevator is on the south and the escalators exit to the north. There is a pedestrian walkway on both sides of the parking ramps, to the north and the south, yet the crosswalk from the station portal to the park is skinny and in between the two ramps. The crossing could be improved by widening it to the width of the park so that patrons exiting the Metro can walk straight across to the pedestrian entrances, rather than having to to walk to the center, cross the street, then cross the driveways to the park entrance.
Simply widening the crosswalk for convenience is not the whole answer, however. It should be redesigned to visually appear as if it is part of the park. Of course, pedestrians need to know they are crossing a street, but drivers must also feel as if they are crossing a park. Some bollards for safety (like those at the Expo Park/USC Expo Line station, minus the stripes), plus landscaping, bricks, or cement pavers across this whole area would dramatically improve the feeling of connectedness within the park, without actually changing the current pedestrian or vehicle access. This crosswalk should appear visually like a pedestrian plaza crossing.
I foresee the park making the Metro much more popular for events at the Music Center, as attendees now have a beautiful, safe, lighted path directly from the station to the venues. The fact that the park is managed by the Music Center will certainly help, as it’s really all part of one major venue.
The one other major complaint I’ve heard is the lack of grass. The plans show a lawn apparently larger than the one currently open on the east side of the park, so I will reserve judgement on that until the whole park is open. It seems that there’s already more grass here than many Downtown parks, but as someone who thinks grass and lawn space is far more important than landscaping in a park, I am always open to more and look forward to the second lawn opening later this year.
Also, Brigham Yen and many others have suggested tearing down the county buildings on one or both sides and expanding the park further. This is obviously a much longer term project, but I think that the building on the 1st St. side specifically would make an excellent extension of the park, towards the Disney Concert Hall and the rest of the Grand Avenue attractions.
This week’s opening is a milestone for Downtown Los Angeles. The park is a significant step in the right direction for Downtown’s transformation, and it will be exponentially more so when the final two blocks open. It is proof that open, public, civic space is important to a community and suggests that something dramatic like Park 101 could be truly transformative in reconnecting Downtown LA.
That being said, this week’s opening only brings us half way there. First, we need to open the rest of the park. And then, there will always be improvements to be made. The rest of the park is coming within months, and further improvements are already a topic of discussion, so we’re clearly on our way.