Walking in Los Angeles. Some say it’s an oxymoron. Others say it’s an impossible daydream. Some have never even heard the phrase.
We, myself and my husband, walk an awful lot. We’re lucky. We live in Central Hollywood. We bar-hop around Hollywood and Vine, all along the Walk of Fame, as far as Sunset and Highland. We walk into Los Feliz, to see movies, to go out to dinner, to shop. We take the Red Line downtown to hit up pool parties and festivals and dine in Little Tokyo or the multiple of restaurants in the Old Bank District.
Our walking is different here than in other cities, though. It’s more of a destination-driven mobility. We know exactly where we’re going, and we walk to that specific place. When we’ve decided to leave that place, we determine what our next stop will be. In other cities, New York, Paris, Madrid, even San Francisco, there is no need for a destination before our legs begin to carry us, our feet treading great ground. When we are ready to leave Max Fish, we may say, “where do you want to go next?” and our answer very well may be, indeed, usually is, “I don’t know.” We wander. Up Avenue A. Passing East 5th, we may say, let’s see what’s going on at Ace Bar. Or not. We keep going. Grabbing an Italian Soda on East 7th, we sit in Tompkins for a bit. Maybe head over to Cooper Square, maybe sit in Washington Square for a bit, maybe down to SoHo, there is no end in sight. “What are you guys doing tonight?” “Nothing. Wandering.” It’s a way of life.
A major aspect of this life, perhaps the very most significant one, is the abundance of parks. City parks. Big or small, size doesn’t matter. It’s about landscaping, with places to sit. Los Angeles is terribly lacking in parks (no shortage of empty lots and parking lots, though). Our open space exists in the form of foothills and mountains, which, though great for hiking, don’t offer the urban respite of city parks. Wandering, strolling, experiencing a city on foot, forming a visceral connection to a city in both body and soul, requires the existence of parks – open, landscaped space to sit and rest and reflect upon the city around you.
This weekend, the city opened the initial phase of Downtown LA’s first major central park. Grand Park sits on twelve blocks that connect the Music Center and City Hall. Previously, those twelve blocks contained the old County Mall, a concrete plaza, and a parking lot. Now, they contain a new wade-able membrane pool, a small intimate performance lawn, a community terrace planted with drought tolerant specimen plants, a grand event lawn, the re-designed fountain of the old mall, now made interactive for adults and children to play in, and ample avenues for strolling, via a series of stairs, accessible ramps and sloped walks.
The first phase of Grand Park’s opening took place just today, and already the twitterverse as well as local blog comments sections are a-heat with criticism about whether this is the ‘right’ spot for a central park, about the price tag ($56 million), and whether or not such funds could have been put to better use by building multiple smaller parks in poorer areas.
I wonder, though, what could possibly be wrong with building a park Downtown. Downtown is not a rich nor a poor area. Every type of person from every social strata finds themselves in this area of Downtown, near the Courthouse (jury duty), the Music Center (opera and theatre), and Grand Central Market (cheap groceries). We need a park there. And now there is one – a grand one.
Yes, we need more parks, in more areas, but at least we now have one more than we had before. Let’s celebrate by grabbing a horchata from Grand Central Market, meandering on over to Grand Park, and taking a seat on one of its magenta lawn chairs. Maybe one day we’ll be able to say it is possible to be a flaneur in LA.
Read more about Grand Park here: