By Steve La and Leilani Albano

Let's face it, Los Angeles is known more for its vast urban sprawl, freeways and mega shopping centers than parks or open spaces. A group of environmental activists, neighborhood council members, professional developers and park advocates hoped to change that Friday with Park(ing) Day LA, a citywide event in its fourth year. L.A. joined dozens of other cities across the globe, each with its own Park(ing) Day Friday.

Parking spaces, streets and vacant lots throughout the city were transformed into temporary parks and civic plazas, creating mini pockets of nature interspersed within the vast, smog-ridden city. Each converted parking spot had its own distinct theme to promote the creation of parks in Los Angeles.

In East Hollywood, the local neighborhood council converted two metered parking spaces into the “East Hollywood Greens.” A row of plants native to Southern California lined a table, including sages, crisp dune mints, aulon beach strawberries and other varieties. All the plants were protected under a green canopy and were free for the public to “adopt,” said co-creator of the space, Katie Bachler.

Plants looking for a home; Credit: Steve La

Plants looking for a home; Credit: Steve La

“Many people think L.A. is a vast urban area, but its actually a chaparral,” Bachler said. “We want to reveal the chaparral beneath the asphalt.” Chaparrals are ecosystems of shrubs and thick plants native to California and a few other regions in the world.

Roberta Romero, a North Hollywood resident admiring the plants, said she's a strong supporter of Park(ing) Day LA.

“I just think there should be more parks in the city.” Romero said. “It's great that there is an actual day to promote the building of more parks.”

A few feet away, an area complete with a picnic table and a solar-powered water fountain were set up. David Bell, president of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, created the fountain, powered by solar panels and made up of a kitchen sink and a kiddy pool found in a dumpster.

East Hollywood Greens; Credit: Steve La

East Hollywood Greens; Credit: Steve La

“I think the fountain is a beautiful representation of the neighborhood,” said Jennifer Moran of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council. “We're just taking junk and thinking of creative ways to reuse it.”

The area is one of the most densely populated ares in the city, but has virtually no parks, noted Moran.

“This is a crisis,” added Bell, who said that adding parks would help fight childhood obesity by giving kids a space to play and exercise. “Who wants to live in a neighborhood without a park?”

Orameh Bagheri, of Los Feliz, also participated at the Park(ing) Day venue “Seedlings for Earthlings,” in Atwater Village. Bagheri hoped to promote the idea of growing one's own food to by providing free non-genetically modified vegetable seedlings and planting tips to passing participants.

She came up with the idea two years ago after she lost her job and found herself struggling to cook up healthy and inexpensive meals.

“I think we're so used to going to the store and buying our food,” she said. “It's good to reconnect” with our food.

Heidi Dubon, of Hollywood, spotted the makeshift planting space as she was driving by and decided to get out of her car to investigate. Although she shares a garden space at her apartment complex, this will be her first attempt to grow food.

Orameh Bagheri giving seedlings to Heidi Dubon to start a garden.; Credit: Leilani Albano

Orameh Bagheri giving seedlings to Heidi Dubon to start a garden.; Credit: Leilani Albano

“I got tomato, basil and spinach” seeds, Dubon said, reviewing the small stack of seed packets Bagheri had given her. “I love fresh food.”

Bagheri said she wants to improve the health of people and the environment by promoting local, community gardening.

A few miles away, organizers turned a portion of Hudson Avenue adjacent to Hollywood Boulevard into a neighborhood gathering area, complete with lunch tables and a drawing space. Chalk artist Lori Antoinette, of Palmdale, showcased a large portrait of her co-worker's daughter dressed as a fairy.

She spent hours completing the elaborate chalk drawing, not minding that it could be washed away in minutes.

Lori Antoinette displaying her art skills.; Credit: Leilani Albano

Lori Antoinette displaying her art skills.; Credit: Leilani Albano

“When you do street painting, it is temporary,” Antoinette said. “You miss out if you aren't there.”

She connected her chalk art to Park(ing) Day's philosophy. “They wanted to enhance the city and give them a place to enjoy,” she said. “This goes along with that.”

Park(ing) Day LA followed San Francisco; in 2005, Rebar, a Bay Area art and design studio, decided to take over a metered parking space and turn it into public park in the middle of downtown San Francisco.

Last year, Park(ing) Day boasted 700 parks in 140 cities on six continents. More than 2,000 Angelenos were expected to participate at at least 32 locations throughout the city, said Park[ing] Day organizer Steven Box.

Participants can end their Friday partying it up during happy hour in Silver Lake or watching a movie at Echo Park Lake. Silver Lake is hosting a reception at Sunset Triangle while the Echo Park Film Center is screening Breaking Away. Chinatown's Grandstar is hosting the official after-party.

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