What I Didn't See at Park(ing) Day LA

The topic of Park(ing) Day in Los Angeles has been organized, blogged, and pictured to death by a circle of people who already seem to know each other. There are 70 posts in my google reader (which include Park(ing) Days in other metropolitan areas in the US). The crudest offenders: Streetsblog LA, Blogdowntown, LAist, and Curbed LA making sure to give me every single camera angle of every Park(ing) space.

No doubt that an event like this sorely, achingly needs exposure, but damn, multiple updates in one day is way too much for me.

It reminded me of how NBC spent about 79 hours covering some random 5.4 earthquake we had a few months ago, showing us videos, images, countless people on the street interviews, of "the experience."...of what ended up being a minor event with little damage and no one dead (damn!)

But, this is Parking Day, and I could understand people's enthusiasm bleeding over into quick and easy blog posts.

A very nice photo stream from Damien Newton at Streetsblog covering the occurrences at LACC/the Bicycle District/East Hollywood/my old neighborhood.

The Militant Angeleno supplemented his experience with a hilarious rant on Neighborhood Council old people.

CurbedLA's Dakota talking about the lack of Park(ing) spaces in the Valley, which I obviously agreed with, and headed down from the nothingness car-tropolis that is called the valley.

Per my actual first-hand, -foot, and -mind, experience...

I only went to Downtown LA, figuring that if I was going to take a car, I might as well be at the spot where most of it was happening. Like I always do when I head downtown, I plopped my car in the neighborhood hugging Echo Park, probably away a parking space from a resident. I'm a hypocrite and whatnot. Park(ing) Day and using all this fuel and polluting the environment through driving, I feel like if I told anyone that, they would've rounded up a mob and nailed me to a cross...mind you, a "green" cross complete with biodegradable nails.

I'll say more about my tendency to drive places later in a separate post.

Parking Day for me was about the "Park", the people-oriented public space, and the people, not so much the anti-automobile, ultra-pro transit and biking Park-ing. So I looked forward to seeing the different exhibits, how they used their "public space", and how they engaged people. I think it was as much a public awareness/outreach event as much as it was a artful exhibit.

On my trip downtown, I came, I saw, and I remember:

...the Community Redevelopment Agency of LA with their knitting circle and free juice, which I enjoyed primarily because they were actually quenching my thirst with some Minute Maid cherry limeade.

...the LA County Bicycle Coaltion and their symbolic bicycle rack.

...LAMP from Skid Row at the "Block party" with Coach Ron being the ubiquitous face in my forays into "that" side of downtown, next to the interactive

...EDAW LA, the people who propose turning part of the 101 freeway into a park, and their forest to the periphery of the LA Central Public Library,

...and an architecture firm's exhibit of smoky emissions from a vehicle.

Outside of this network of organizations and usual suspects behind any kind of urban living change, I kept wondering how many common, everyday people walking downtown actually noticed, took in, or even had an opinion about what was happening to their on-street parking spaces.

I gather that most of the folks wandering and working in downtown LA parked within private parking structure lots, so perhaps it didn't affect them in any kind of engagingly emotional, personal way. Families had places to go and probably figured that they weren't really invited to the fun, seeing that the people who organized it didn't look them, besides CRA/LA's Knitting circle.

I was an intentional attendee of Park(ing) Day LA in downtown, but I did not know how to find the different spaces.

While I enjoyed, I still felt like a few things were missing from making it a great outreach/awareness event. It seemed like it should've been funner, and more broadly inclusive.

A few of the things I noticed:

1) There weren't enough families.

Relative to the pictures from concurrent Parking Days in New York, it looks like families are actually participating!

Note the photos of kids playing connect four!

Note the kids on the turf!

Now turn the camera, back to LA: why such a paucity in Los Angeles?

Maybe a combination of:

...downtown being full of "working" people
...there being no real high-traffic parking spaces
...the free public spaces in downtown being inhabited by homeless folks
...luxury loft construction combined with affordable housing demolitions affecting the homeless
...the lack of kid-friendly, happening places downtown. Re: bookstores, playgrounds, music stuff...less trips for families downtown

2) Going off this apparently adult-centered Parking Day, some of the green space was just utterly uninviting.

EDAW LA's space in particular was particularly disengaging.

Yes, greening things, is a theme, but not too much of it that you lose part of the point of why you build a park in an urban setting in the first place.

It's like they aimed to build a fortress of privatized greenery ala the Beverly Hills sidewalks rather than some kind of space that actually looked to include everyone, even a 24-year old brown-ish kid in a Habitat for Humanity shirt and straight-from the Phillippines basketball shorts.

I hope Park 101 wasn't supposed to emblematic of that space.

Greenery talk seems to have infiltrated LA discourse since at least the 70s, and yeah, hope it's not all talk.

But, it was just a one-day thing and overall their idea is nothing that I could knock.

3) It was really hard locating anything until I spotted the parking space with the flags, the cyclist, and the symbolically-polluting vehicle.

Thankfully, they provided a Map for other Parking Day LA events, but even with the map a lot of them were hard to find. Still afterward, I had gotten one of their maps, it still felt like a treasure hunt...I was forcefully, intentionally, frustratedly hunting down these spots.

They needed a lot more noise pollution.


There was a saxophonist on Third Street that was playing Mas Que Nada in loop. He would seem to fit the theme of people-oriented public space.

If cost was a concern, maybe just a simple iPod for every single space would've done something. It would've been a cost-effective quick way to draw attention.

4) On the idea of community-building, I would have worked with what was available in the community and on the streets already.

Ala a Historic Filipinotown get-down featuring the Blue Scholars and Bambu, formerly of the hip-hop duo Native Guns, get an ice cream truck, or cart at the block party, get some bacon-rolled hot dogs.

Basically, the party atmosphere liked enough of the "party." An environment where people could actually play. That kind of medium

The basketball court was a real nice touch by LAMP or Ron's organization, but no one was playing with it at the Block Party when I got there. The pool up in the Bicycle district and the Valley would've been pretty cool too. If they brought some kind of swingset, soccer goals, boxing, random art exhibits like they do in Silver Lake, I think the party would've smoked up the block a bit.

But what do I know, I was just a man walking the street.

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