Tiny Parks with a Purpose
By Patty Park '91
Published Jan 1, 2014 8:00 AM
Can parklets make sidewalks friendly again?
After receiving an extraordinary $100-million gift from Meyer ’49 and Renee ’53 Luskin in 2011, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs cast a renewed vision and blueprint for reshaping public life in Los Angeles. What could L.A. look like in 20 years? How could we use our collective intellect and resources to move the needle on issues like health care, education, transportation, housing and crime?
One answer: We found that a simple sidewalk could improve public life.
The innovative minds at the school are leading the way in changing how we look at urban living. For example, Professor of Urban Planning Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, associate dean, is literally changing the landscape of life in downtown L.A., starting with the sidewalk.
“The sidewalk used to be just a place for movement, where people met other people,” she says. Then, “sidewalks started to disappear from our cities and people started disappearing from sidewalks.” But Loukaitou- Sideris, a native of Greece — where streets are constantly full of life — is out to change that. She’s working with the UCLA Complete Streets Initiative to revitalize empty sidewalks with “parklets.”
Parklets are small-scale parks created at traffic triangles, parking spaces, parts of wide street lanes and other underused asphalt space. They have popped up in San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia, Long Beach and other places.
But leave it to L.A. to set a trend within a trend. While other parklets offer a place to sit and relax, L.A.’s are the first in the nation to offer an exercise zone with workout machines bolted to the street. The goal of Loukaitou-Sideris and those working with her is that the parklets not only bring people together socially, but also provide an opportunity to improve physical health and combat the nation’s obesity epidemic. “Since cities don’t have the funds to acquire huge chunks of land and convert them to open space, parklets are cost-effective ways to encourage recreation in dense, low-income areas,” she says. She and her students assessed the use of the two parklets and found that the sites are attracting people and helping to reduce “incivilities” such as crime and vandalism and are being well-maintained.
Business developers in Westwood and Pasadena have expressed an interest in developing local parklets, and cities across the country are using the parklet template that UCLA provides on the Internet.
Loukaitou-Sideris hopes exercise zones will one day be interspersed throughout L.A., enhancing urban life and improving public health — a win-win at any size.