Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Need For More Public Parks

On Sunday, Miss V and I decided to go see Kung Fu Panda at the Glendale Americana. For those of you who have never heard of the Americana, it's basically like the Grove or Santana Row. Essentially, it's a European-styled outdoor shopping mall complete with fountains, tacky interesting statues, a playground, and luxury condos above the stores.

On Sunday, the Americana was packed. But what was remarkable was that the stores themselves weren't crowded. Instead, everyone was outside, sitting on the grass, hanging out by the fountain, or watching their kids on the playground. And while there were plenty of people eating on the Cheesecake Factory's outside patio, there was a conspicuous lack of shopping bags.

It seemed like everyone had gone to the mall ... to sit outside on the grass.

I'm not exactly sure why no one was shopping on Sunday. It could be because of the recession, or because the Americana mostly features upscale expensive shops like Barney's and Kate Spade. But I can tell you why people flock to the Americana all the same. It's because there's a paucity of public parks in LA. With a few exceptions, such as Griffith Park or MacArthur Park, there are relatively few neighborhood parks in Los Angeles where you can sprawl on the lawn and read a book or throw a ball around with a friend.

Now I know, I know. Lawns aren't eco-friendly in a drought-prone area like LA. But the truth is, people like grass and trees, and a village green is much more eco-friendly than everyone having their own backyard lawn. And especially in a place like Los Angeles, where it's sunny all the time, people need more spaces where they can enjoy the outdoors.

Unfortunately, land is also expensive, and so instead of getting more parks, we end up with outdoor malls. Contrast this with Prague, where I went two summers ago. Prague is famous for its old buildings of course, but it is also justifiably famous for its parks and gardens. And there are parks EVERYWHERE. And if you turn into a random alleyway, chances are good you will land up in some public garden.

I read once that one of the reasons the Czech are so outdoorsy is because when the Communist Regime controlled the media, people headed outdoors because it was the only place to escape the government.

But even those of us in messy capitalist democracies need to escape outside now and then. We all need time to lean against a tree, or to teach our child how to throw a frisbee. It would be nice if we could have more parks, but until then, people are going to make do. 

And so people will probably continue to visit the Americana and not shop. Because LA didn't REALLY need another mall, but we desperately needed that patch of green.


knutty knitter said...

I am so glad our city fathers put in an enormous green belt along with heaps of parks and gardens. The green belt is still mostly native bush and winds right along the hills. It's getting a bit of a makeover at present (foreign invader removal) but can still be walked, ridden, or (if desperate)driven.

viv in nz

EcoBurban said...

Green space is green space! You've got to take it where you can get it. The weather is so cold here, we have few outdoor malls. The ones that we do have? Total cement and pavement. No grass, no public spaces where you would feel comfortable just "hanging out". You lucky west coasters, you have all the fun!

Joyce said...

Ours are all indoors, to accomodate winter shopping of course. But this makes me glad to live in a twon that frquently wins awards for it's parks.
I think that would be a good thing to lobby for. There are studies that show that people with ADHD do better when they spend some part of each dy in a green space- especially woodlands. There is something about the greenery that is actually restful to the mind. In a stressful city setting (well, I would find it stressful anyway) that might help people de-stress.
Then there is the air cleansing factor. Also very beneficial for an urban area.
I wonder if a place like LA has some aeas where the city could pull down some old warehouses or creae a some biking/walking trails on unused train tracks? That's the sort of thing Chicago did, and they have a wonderful amount of greenspace there.

J said...

That's really nice to hear that people are just going out to enjoy the outdoors, not just being outside in transit to the shopping mall.

I agree with Eco Mom, green space is green space and it is vital to community.

We are lucky here in Columbia, Missouri, we have tons of parks here, that are always packed with people, dogs, kids, its wonderful. Corporations here have even started creating parks. Shelter Insurance is based in Columbia and has a wonderful park open to the public right by my house.

Green Bean said...

Absolutely! We all need a place to hang out on the green and soak up the sun and mingle with other folks. We need a lot more of those types of places.

Natalie said...

I can't tell how you feel about it. Really. You say positive things about it, but I got the feeling you were sorry to say them. I tend to think these mixed use developments are good. I'm actually going to guess Americana was re-development of existing structures. All the better.

Now you have to accept that we DO live in a messy capitalistic society and the city will NOT let go of needing commerce for income. Not that I'd advocate for one of the monstrosities in my own backyard. But if a mall's going to get built, I think this is a better alternative. Albeit a bit tacky!

People live there - it's in use 24/7. There's open space - less hardscape. It's open air with almost infinite points of entry - parking can be structured more land-consciously. It's dense - easy to run PT services. I'm sure there's more I can't think of right now...

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Before we had a garden we used to spend hours in our local park. Some chips, some juice, the weekend paper and a pack of cards - bliss! I could have lived without the constant bongo drums though.

Anonymous said...

It is amazing what a little park action can do. I have to say, despite NYC's limited space, we actually have a lot of parks. Central Park is a work of pure genius, but even more so are all the large and tiny parks scattered all over the 5 boroughs. I can think of very few places where someone can't walk to a park. It really makes it livable.

ruchi said...

Viv, that's great! I hear New Zealand is very, very green.

EBM, heh, it's weird because when I lived in the Midwest the mall nearest me was an outdoor mall. Strange, huh?

Joyce, I have to say, college towns are the BEST. There's always tons of green space in college towns. I think that's why I miss having a grassy space within walking distance. I went to an outdoor high school too so I got used to being able to just sit under a tree and read. Since I've lived in LA, I never have an outdoor place where I can just sit and read a book.

Jennifer, that's cool to hear that corporations are starting to build parks!

GB, yes, I LOVE the sun. I wish I was soaking it up right now.

Natalie, you're right. I'm pretty ambivalent about The Americana. On the one hand it's great. I enjoy going there. I like spending time in the sun and watching the crazy fountains. But ... it's a mall. And I think it's kind of a shame that there aren't more places where people can go to be outside that aren't completely tied to consumerism. I wouldn't feel entirely comfortable going to The Americana, and reading a book for an hour. It's kind of like going to a restaurant and ordering a water. No one is going to kick you out, but you know that this is private property and you're not doing what was intended in the space. That said, you make excellent points about the mixed-use development. And I totally agree, if you have to build a mall, this is the way to go!

CAE, that does sound like bliss!

Orgie, I've noticed that about NY as well. I think the difference is in LA many people still have the private lawns so there is not as much demand for parks.

Anonymous said...

Where is your first post about starting your year of non-consumerism? I'm intrigued, but really overwhelmed with the quantity of your posts. I need to start reading a bit at a time, otherwise, I'll have to live at my computer without sleep indefinitely.

ruchi said...

Nancy, I know it's overwhelming.

Here are a some posts to read to get you situated:









EcoBurban said...

Yep, I guess they assume that we are a hearty breed here in the midwest and we will brave -10 degree temperatures for retail therapy at an outdoor mall! I just think our brains get numb from the cold... :o)

Sam said...

When I was in a suburb of Georgia a few years back we checked out the Mall of Georgia and aside from whatever was constructed to give the illusion of a public space it was all part of some private concern like some corp. entity that was paying rent to the MOG (Mall of GA).

What I thought was really sad was that there was "outdoor" seating for the MOG's starbucks but it was indoors. As in inside the Mall. But people were sitting there sipping their lattes and I guess enjoying the safety. There is something to be said for enjoying some time and not being bugged by homeless people but I'm not sure I want such a sterile space.

ruchi said...

EBM, I gotta tell you, people were totally braving the weather! The mall still had shoppers even in freezing cold weather. Weird, no?

Beany, was it a fake outdoors like in Vegas where they paint a sunlit sky on the ceiling?

Sam said...

I didn't look at the ceiling so I don't know if there was a fake sky.

They paint skies in Vegas? I wonder how much longer that city is going to last.

OT: I was looking at Las Vegas with google's satellite feature and was shocked at the fact that nearly every single home had a swimming pool! I thought they were in a desert.

Melissa said...

I understand your ambivalence...being pretty close to Santana Row, I have to say that I only go there when we have out of town guests. There is something fake, too planned feeling about it - it's not something that's grown organically with the community. Yes, it's good for the economy, but I much prefer to take my snack and my book to the dinky little park and hear kids playing and watch people living real lives, if that makes sense?

ruchi said...

Beany, yeah in the casinos in Vegas they paint the ceiling to look like a sky. It's pretty cool actually!!

Melissa, to be fair, the Americana has a lawn for people to sit and hang out which Santana Row doesn't have. But I agree with you that these developments don't tend to feel organic.

Natalie said...

This is funny. I lived in Georgia for 6 years, actually not far from MOG. And, I grew up near Santana Row (then called Town & Country).

MOG is just really big. No painted ceilings as far as I can remember. But they do have some seating areas that are in the common area of the mall. I don't think it's safety that mall-goers there are seeking. They're just avoiding the weather, which is almost always either too hot/rainy or too cold/dry/icy. There are open air malls in GA, believe it or not. And they do just fine. But given a choice, I think most folks there choose to be inside. I was right there with them, too!

As for Santana Row, I would prefer that style over another behemoth MOG or Valley Faire style mall. Plus I remember what SR was like when it was Town & Country. What a waste of land that was!? There was a B-rate movie theater, a men's clothing store, and a Chili's. Only Chili's could capture the business from the Century theaters across the street. And the men's store survived on tux rentals, I think. There was one large, unpaved (but not natural) field in the back, but the rest was parking lots and empty store fronts. That's a huge area to be covered by pavement without much use! If we're going to use the land, we should try to get the most from it. And I think it's cool that places like Santana Row can bring a bit of density to the suburban sprawl of that area.

Anyway, I guess I'm sounding really "pro-development" and "pro-commerce" here. Not my intention. But Santana Row and Americana (and MOG for that matter) weren't intended as picnic destinations. They are not "organic". Nor are they "green" by almost any measurement. They were developed to create vitality in the economy. That gives the city enough money to create vitality in the community through parks, education, police services, etc.

Okay...off my soapbox now!

ruchi said...

Natalie, I completely agree with you. As far as malls go, I would rather go to Santana Row over Valley Faire any day of the week. And I think if we're strictly speaking about the direction of malls, that the mixed-use outdoor mall is a much better option, especially in California.

But what makes me sad is that there are so FEW non-commercial places for many Angelenos these days. It's great that the Americana has a lawn and a playground, but I would love to also see more public parks in LA. But with the cost of land what it is, I don't think we'll be seeing a rise in public parks anytime soon. So I guess the Americana is the next-best thing. (Hence ambivalence.)

Natalie said...

I totally got your point, Arduous. I guess I was just spouting about what Beany and Melissa had mentioned. Effectively - although unintentionally - ending the conversation in a weird rambly sort of way.

Anonymous said...

Here in Seattle, the mayor is on a rampage to tear down parking lots and put up paradise (in the form of parks)... didn't really work, but I was trying to invert Joni Mitchell's "painted paradise and put up a parking lot."

ANYWAY, I believe his theory is that not only will the parks help suck in the CO2 and create a community space, but less parking lots will force more people to use the new light rail system and other great public transportation in the city. It's really exciting.

ruchi said...

Natalie, ok, I'm glad I was clear!! Rambling is always good.

Melinda, interesting. You know, I have to say, I think part of the reason LA is SUCH a car culture is also because of the ample parking. Because there's so much parking most places, people are loathe to even walk 2-3 blocks, because, hey, why not drive and park?

Melissa said...

arduous - I think you are definitely onto something with availability of parking being tied to the car culture - I've noticed the same thing here. People often aren't even willing to walk across half the parking lot; they'd rather sit and wait for a space right next to the door. It's actually funny in a pathetic way a lot of the time.