The Los Angeles City Council has directed the Departments of Transportation, Public Works, and City Planning to assist community groups with the installation of four pilot parklets. Over the past year, community groups in Highland Park, Downtown Los Angeles, and El Sereno have been developing plans for improving the public realm, design elements such as parklets as a centerpiece of their plans. Parklets are small areas for seating and planting that extend the sidewalk into on-street metered parking spaces.
The four pilot parklets – one on York Boulevard in Highland Park, two on Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles, and another on Huntington Drive in El Sereno, will be the first of their kind in the City of Los Angeles, and will inform the development of a citywide program to facilitate communities across Los Angeles with implementing similar projects.
“Experimenting with the Margin: Parklets and Plazas as Catalysts in Community and Government” was published this month by the University of Southern California this month. This graduate thesis from student Robin Abad Ocubillo resulted from interviews with over sixty parklet and plaza stakeholders in New York, San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. Parklets and Plazas – besides being novel new open spaces where communities gather – actually play a huge role in bringing neighbors together through the process of planning, fundraising, design and implementation. From the Abstract:
Two related typologies of small-scale, experimental urban design have emerged in recent years as a synthesis of community action and progressive governmental experimentation: the Parklet and the Pedestrian Plaza. The Parklet occupies curbside parking spaces while the Pedestrian Plaza reclaims excess roadway, often at irregular intersections. While the typologies differ in physical form, both emerge from a common thrust of experimental action redressing the urban fabric and environment. Together, these two typologies – and the city programs created to facilitate their implementation – begin to define a process of Heuristic Urbanism: a collaborative practice that engages urban design through provisional programs and projects that are continually self-evaluating. This thesis illustrates how the Heuristic Urbanism of Parklets and Pedestrian Plazas necessitates innovation within city government through the assimilation of grassroots initiatives. A literature review outlines the theoretical and practical contexts from which Heuristic Urbanism emerges; suggests the evolutionary heritage of Parklets and Pedestrian Plazas; and examines the range of assumptions, expectations, and outcomes engendered by the new typologies and their relatives. The thesis then leverages interviews with over 65 individual stakeholders from government, advocacy groups, design and business communities in four California cities which are in various stages of advancing Parklet and Pedestrian Plaza programs…
The discussion then moves from overarching examination of program development to circumstances at the site and neighborhood scale; identifying common physical and social conditions as pre-requisites for Parklet and Plaza viability. This set of conditions is generated from stakeholder interviews and correlated with the literature review. Here the thesis articulates a coherent practical framework for evaluating future potential sites of intervention; engaging the dialectic between action, research, analysis, and refinement that characterizes Heuristic Urbanism. The study concludes with a discussion on the long-term implications of Heuristic Urbanism for urban design and planning practice. Significant and recurring themes emerge from the interviews; defining a territory which addresses public-private tensions, the role of design professionals in activism and governance, and the catalytic potential of Heuristic Urbanism for re‐adapting both the urban fabric and modes of its management.