The Dream of Open Space, Part I
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Last Thursday, caught in the L.A. evening commute, the Urban Man began to dream of open space. This can happen to even the most dedicated Angeleno. I mean, there you are, creeping happily in your sealed car past perfectly good Chevron stations and Del Tacos, when suddenly you get the urge to leap like an antelope across a green and windswept hill.
Okay, I admit the idea had been planted by that morning's L.A. Times, which ran a feature in the Home Section on a private paradise, created by a wealthy guy on his nine-acre Malibu property. Big photos showed a newly green hill sporting a trout lake, an instant forest, artificial stream, swans…all put in for himself and, you know, a few good friends.
I did not resent this man's use of land, water, or money. He earned it honestly…in the mortgage business. And while I'm sure there are cities where wealthy people who hanker for natural beauty often help create something public—a Central Park or a Golden Gate Park—I know I don't happen to live in a city like that.
Here I can look at the photos or get invited to the backyard barbeque.
Besides, I was at that very moment creeping up La Cienega over Baldwin Hills—so, when I got a personal urge for open space, lo…I simply turned off into the Kenneth Hahn Recreation Area.
Maybe you've been to this park, which rises on a fitful island above our great sea of development. From here, you can survey the tide of concrete washing our basin in every direction—relentless and unplanned, fully one-third of the land paved, 250 tons of concrete per person. Meanwhile, you can recall that L.A. has the lowest per capita acreage of urban park of any large city in America.
A little swath of land was spared up here on Baldwin Hills, thanks to still-working oil-pumps and the state, which has bravely planted grass and playgrounds beneath a march of power lines and microwave towers.
Anyway, as the sun sets, a young couple interrupts my land-use analysis by pulling up and slamming their doors. He's a baggy homeboy wearing colors and a backwards baseball cap. She sports picturesque makeup and a leopard-skin purse. I'm touched when the tough guy puts on his "girlfriend voice," you know, that extra-high pitch to say, "Okay honey, show me around." And my L.A. soul follows them to the little bridge over the water feature—a cheerful, but murky artificial stream.
On the bridge, the couple stands uncertainly and I watch their eyes dart from the screen of eucalyptus hiding the oil pumps to the march of power lines. They're looking for something to inspire a kiss.
But lo again….there's no kiss. In fact, pretty soon she's yakking on her cell.
And here I must apologize to the man who built that private paradise featured in Thursday's Times. For I immediately imagined these lovers walking along his much nicer artificial stream. Or better yet, I imagined what might happen if he now used his talent and resources to create something equally wonderful, here in town.
You see, like any self-respecting antelope, love demands both good and accessible open space. And if two young Angelenos found actual beauty in an urban park, might we all, in some mysterious way, be better off?
On October 26, Los Angeles will hold its first Open Space Summit, called "Public Space LA!" At this event, architects, activists, and developers will talk about urban parks and plazas. They'll ask how we got to this point and how we might reconnect local wealth with local public space.
The Urban Man will be hosting a panel and you should think about attending if you haven't yet built your own nine-acre paradise, or maybe— maybe especially—if you have.
The website is www.PublicSpaceLA.com.
Copyright © 2007 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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