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Stretch of Grand Avenue may be transformed into a park

The street would be narrowed between 9th and Olympic in downtown L.A.'s South Park neighborhood to create green space for residents.

January 06, 2010|By Cara Mia DiMassa

In a city that spent the last century paving over the natural landscape, the idea that a small swath of asphalt might be going green is a bit of an anomaly.

But that's what the Community Redevelopment Agency is proposing for a stretch of Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles' South Park neighborhood. The idea is to narrow the street between 9th Street and Olympic by two lanes -- and use the extra land for open space.

Reclaiming street space as recreational space is fairly rare in L.A., and it reflects the changes afoot in downtown. The area, once a mostly business and light-industrial district, is now home to thousands of new residents who inhabit the high-rise buildings around Staples Center and L.A. Live.

Other ingenious placements for parks have been proposed in recent years, including "caps" on top of the Hollywood and Santa Monica freeways for open space. But Lillian Burkenheim, the redevelopment agency's project manager for downtown, said it was the first time she could recall when city leaders considered turning blacktop back to green.

Creating a linear park along Grand Avenue would achieve two goals, the city says: It would make the avenue narrower and more pedestrian-oriented, and it would offer more green space for residents, their dogs and their children. Some hope the Grand Avenue plan is repeated elsewhere.

"The bottom line is, we need more park space," said Mike Pfeiffer, president of the South Park Stakeholders Group. "We have to be more creative in a part of the city where the available land to build a park is becoming very hard to come by."

Burkenheim said the agency would look at either building two small strips of park, one on each side of Grand, or something much larger on the south side of the street, where the Federal Reserve is located. That would also provide an opportunity to upgrade the streetscape in front of the federal building, which has been ringed by security bollards since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Although the upscale South Park district has benefited in recent years from a vast upgrade of many of the sidewalks, with new benches, lamps and other amenities added, residents have long complained about a lack of open space in an area that for decades was a light industrial zone.

Susana Benavidez, a downtown resident and mother who has been organizing regular play dates with other downtown families at Grand Hope Park, said, "Any green space is a great idea. . . . It would be great to have green space in the historic core."

She said one idea might be to give over part of the new park to dogs, which are kept out of many green spaces downtown, including nearby Grand Hope Park.

"It's such a dead block anyway," she added. A park, she said, "is a great way to turn [around] a dead street, and put some life into it."

Burkenheim said the idea of introducing a linear park to downtown's streetscape came about after a revamping of the standards for downtown streets. The Grand Avenue stretch involved in the plan, she said, had been built to highway standards -- much wider than any other part of the street in downtown, and its size is no longer necessary. That section of downtown, she said, is now a destination rather than a traffic corridor.

"We decided with the city that we could close some of the lanes on the street and create a new street that was smaller and more pedestrian-friendly," Burkenheim said. "As we did that, we could actually get between 20 and 25 feet out of the street that we could use for a park."

Narrowing wide streets has become an increasingly popular idea in cities across the country. Advocates point out that such streets can be safer because motorists drive slower, making the streets more appealing to pedestrians. Some cities have narrowed streets to add bike lanes.

And the Grand Avenue project may not be the last park in the area. A few blocks away, at Hill and 9th streets, some loft residents want to convert a parking lot behind the Eastern Columbia building into a neighborhood park.

cara.dimassa@latimes.com

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