By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
But the yard, for all its virtues, is neither sexy nor romantic. It’s a rare Angeleno, I would imagine, who would trade a stroll along the Seine for an evening at home in a lawn chair. There’s something undeniably sensual and exciting about the anonymity of the commons — being surrounded by people and yet alone. All the world’s great cities have this feeling. Of course, New York, the ultimate source of Los Angeles’ civic anxiety, has it — but nowhere is it more profound than in Paris.
Relatively speaking, Paris’ global reputation as a city of romance is an entirely modern one. Only a century and a half ago, Paris was widely considered a slum-infested pit — rotting from its core. Under Napoleon III, the city underwent sweeping urban renewal, aimed primarily at revitalizing its public sphere. In just two decades, from 1850 to 1870, Paris’ network of parks jumped from 45 to 4,500 acres, and the city went from a filth-strewn collection of alleyways to one of majestic boulevards and promenades.
Paris’ rise to global cultural dominance was achieved through the use of space and the creation of parks. Like 19th-century Paris, Los Angeles is in the midst of a similar cultural ascent. But for all the strides this city has made in the worlds of art, theater, music and cuisine, the final impediment to Los Angeles’ arrival as a world-class destination — one capable of competing with the likes of the City of Light — is still the city itself.
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Mia Lehrer, architect of the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan
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Union Pacific "piggyback" yard
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As anyone involved in a long-term relationship knows, romance requires effort, and, historically speaking, Los Angeles has been a lazy lover.
Of course, L.A.’s development failures haven’t entirely escaped the notice of City Hall. After decades of unceasing sprawl, the city is finally attempting to rebrand itself through the use of space. Since Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took office in 2005, backed by the likes of council members Jan Perry and Eric Garcetti, smart growth and transit-oriented development have been touted as the city’s new urban-planning panaceas. Under the rubric of these strategies, Los Angeles, it is promised, will become walkable and dense — its citizens reliant on public transportation, just like in Paris.
To help market this philosophy of density, the promise of green space has never been far behind. “Under my leadership,” Villaraigosa promised in 2005, days after he was first elected, “we will create an emerald necklace of parks along the [Los Angeles] river, and dot our neighborhoods with new emeralds — neighborhood parks.”
Villaraigosa’s words were an overt reference to Frederick Law Olmsted, the pioneering American landscape architect who designed Boston’s famed Emerald Necklace park system, New York’s Central Park and dozens of other notable green spaces across the country, and to the legendary plan that the sons of Olmsted drew up for Los Angeles in 1930 — a plan that was subsequently abandoned and that urban theorist Mike Davis famously labeled, “a window into a lost future.”
Since the mayor’s initial pledge to reinstitute L.A.’s lost green vision, the name Olmsted has become a fashionable signifier in city-planning circles — with everyone from Garcetti and fellow councilman Jack Weiss to anyone else wanting to sound visionary name-dropping the plan. City Councilman Tom LaBonge keeps a copy in his office.
Such rhetoric couldn’t come at a better time. Los Angeles stands at a historical crossroads: its push toward density, opening up large tracts of land for redevelopment, land that could be used for parks and civic space.
Unfortunately, rhetoric and action are distant cousins.
The irony in all the Olmsted referencing is that nearly 80 years after the original Olmsted plan was released, and three years into the green mayor’s term, Los Angeles still lacks both a master plan and a general maintenance routine for its park system. Neither the Department of Recreation and Parks nor the City Council parks committee has a master list of city-owned property that could be converted to park space. The Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan, much lauded and doted on by the City Council, still hasn’t been signed off on by either of the major players who control the L.A. River — the Army Corps of Engineers and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
L.A.’s supposedly new “Central Park,” in the Grand Avenue redevelopment project (of which 13 of the 16 acres are already public green space), may be our next Pershing Square. World-renowned landscape architect Laurie Olin, brought on to create a “Ramblas” on Grand Avenue, has dropped out; the developer, Related Companies, is crying poverty; and such critics as theL.A. Times’ Christopher Hawthorne have called the design uninspired.
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