A young woman walking along an elderly man, presumably her father, but in LA you never know, passes by a sprinkler nursing a newly dug flower bed. The sprinkler gently drip feeds the patch, giving the buried seeds a chance at life in the blistering California spring. The two stroll unfettered by time on the freshly laid honey comb shaped pavers. They stop for a moment, just long enough for the young woman to run her sandaled foot in front of the squirt of water. They both giggle. She by the tickling sensation of the water refreshing her foot. He by the joy she was deriving from it. The smell of disturbed earth, pungent manure and nothingness provided a peaceful setting for this Adam and Eve. They looked comfortable, as if they had found a place to just relax. To just be in.
Los Angeles State Historic Park reopened on the weekend of April 22, 2017 after a 17-year long battle between the city of Los Angeles and its residents. The land where the park was developed was originally planned to be warehouses, meant to bring more jobs to the city. Fortunately, a group by the name of Chinatown Yard Coalition wanted this land to be a park. It took a civil rights lawsuit, a state park bond and the discovery of historical artifacts to eventually coerce the city to reconsider its stance on its use of the land.
The park has piqued the interest of many LA residents from the adjacent neighborhoods. It is clean, well groomed and landscaped without a single piece of rubbish in sight. In a few words, it doesn’t feel like a true LA park yet. The park rangers were wearing smiles on their faces and guns holstered to their hips. They seemed optimistic, looking forward to shooting more smiles than bullets. However, the park is empty for a majority of the day. It is so new and unused that an old couple looking for plastic bottles and cans find it a futile endeavor. They move from trash can to trash can, coming away empty-handed.
The wood benches are decorated with a rich walnut stain to tie in the darker tones of the surrounding trees. In order to protect their immaculate state, brushed metal studs protrude from them like thorns on a rose to dissuade skaters from grinding their boards’ bodies or homeless people from resting theirs against their clean surfaces. The restrooms are clean and greet patrons with a scent devoid of any foul smells of urine or feces. The amount of asses that its toilet seats have come in contact with is still well within the hundreds.
The trees are young, barely surpassing the age of a sapling, providing just a little bit more shade than that obtained from a standing broom. Enough shade for a group of three or four people to huddle at close proximity under. Their appendages classify more accurately under the category of twigs than branches. Their trunks don’t have a wide enough surface on which to disfigure them with a sharp object, writing romantic sigils by lovers.
Commercialization has made its way into the park as well. After all, this is LA. “Coming Soon” banners advertise the imminent arrival of trendy restaurants. Movie screening companies fence off large portions of the park and charge a premium to watch old favorites accompanied by food truck cuisine. Music festivals like the Fuck Yeah Fest and Skyline have already booked the main body of the park, with tickets selling out in an instant, mostly to scalpers, and resold for a higher cost. A practice a little too common in LA. Beyond its unnerving legality, it’s a way of life.
The enthusiasm with which the locals were jogging on its swept gravel roads, lying on its primly cut grass and strolling on its gumless paved slabs served as evidence of the need that this community had for a widespread urban park. The joggers running on the plushy gravel track were not habitual joggers. They were not in shape or ever would be, but were exerting their bodies because it was something that the new park now allowed them to do. Most of them ran in pairs of significant others and others with insignificant ones. All running to the tune of their phones. Some wear their hearts on their sleeve, but in LA most would rather just wear their phone, mainly to keep track of how many steps they’ve taken. Lone walkers stared longingly at their phones, not making eye contact with anybody. I suppose that the “public” in public space is optional. This park is just another place in which to wear haute couture yoga pants and look at your phone.
The park’s fenced décor serves a purpose beyond that of staving off violent gangs and the homeless, it acts as a protection from the city’s hectic operations. It is corralled by train tracks, the LA River and a roaring Spring Street devoid of any traffic lights. In the evening, the sun hides itself behind the hills of Elysian Park–where Dodger Stadium is built–and casts a warm orange light that silhouettes the LA skyline and the small Chinatown pagodas.
People in LA like their public spaces to be vested in history, a little bit of something old. Something incorporated from what was there before. The park prides itself in its embrace of the city’s past lives, proudly displaying artifacts unearthed during construction in various nooks of the landscape. Relics to remind them that they themselves are not replaceable. That once they leave this Earth, some trace of theirs will remain, will be remembered and not simply scrapped and thrown away to make way for something new. So they walk on hand-chiseled cobbles to remember that they never want to be forgotten. This earth is a site for second chances.