Making LA: Public Spaces

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Los Angeles isn’t known for its public spaces. Sure, there’s the miles of beaches, but get off the coast and we lack the parks and plazas of other dense cities. But that might be changing. A handful of new projects have been developing, from the L.A. River to Grand Park to Grand Central Market. Is Los Angles breaking out of its car-centric, backyard-loving shell and becoming something new?

Aaron Paley, President and co-founder of Community Arts Resources, and co-founder and Executive Director of CicLAvia; and Fred Kent, Founder and President of the Project for Public Spaces talked to Press Play about what makes a good public space, particularly in Los Angeles.”

“There’s a certain ease, and a lowering of boundaries between people, good public spaces make that happen,” said Paley when asked to define a successful public space.

Kent cited the New York City subway. “My favorite is the New York City subway on a Saturday morning,” he told Madeleine Brand. “I see the world around me. There’s a connection between every part of the world, every class, every culture, every world and I just start smiling”

One would think that with Los Angeles’ year-round sunshine there’d be more to do outside. Blame the car, said Paley. “It’s just a quirk about how things happen here. We built the Libaray and City Hall, we were on that track, and then we embraced the automobile and our religion of the single family house, so we retreated from all those public spaces.”

One place that both Paley and Kent were optimistic about is a new vision for Pershing Square, one with year-round programming and an emphasis on commercial spaces and restaurants. “A place that can change morning, noon and night,” said Kent.

Paley explained that Pershing Square was great before WWII, and then after the war things changed. The parking garage was installed, which also served as a fallout shelter, making it less welcoming. In the 1990s, it got a makeover without the thinking and staffing to make sure it was lively year round.

So whose responsibility is it to create these spaces? Some of it has to be planned, and some of it has to be organic.

“In Los Angeles, I really believe the transformation through the influx of immigrants,” said Paley, citing street vendors who set up tables and chairs and string lights at night. “It’s unfortunate that we don’t allow that legally,” he said. “But there is a role for government as well,” he said, citing Sunset Junction in Silver Lake. “It does need to have that entrepreneurial spirit.”

Making L.A. is an ongoing series on Press Play. More, here.