Honey Tells The True Story Of Parks

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October 1, 2011 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste.)

In 1930, the Citizens Committee of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce commissioned a regional plan for parks, beaches and playgrounds.   The Olmsted-Bartholomew plan envisioned connected greenways that allowed easy access to recreation for all residents.   (Eden by Design: the 1930 Olmsted-Bartholomew Plan, Greg Hise and William Deverell)

Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted co-designed Central and Prospect Park in New York, the south portion of Chicago’s “Green Necklace” boulevard, Boston’s “Green Necklace,” the country’s first and oldest coordinated system of public parks and parkways in Buffalo, New York; the country’s oldest state park, the Niagara Reservation in Niagara Falls, New York, and many other lovely areas.

Frederick Olmsted, Jr. and his brother John C. Olmsted were the landscape architects who contributed to the Los Angeles plan.  They were best known for their wildlife conservation plans, which included projects in Yosemite and the Everglades.

The plan included parks along the Los Angeles River: vegetation was to absorb water during floods, which occurred with occasional but devastating frequency.

This idea was eventually incorporated into the revitalization of Curitiba in Brazil as part of architect – and former mayor of Curitiba — Jaime Lerner’s “Solution of the Parks.”     (Film:  “Sustainable Urban Living: A South American Case Study,” produced by Peter Beeh)

The actor Mary Pickford was a member of the Citizens Committee and originally supported the Los Angeles regional plan.   She withdrew her support after concluding that the consequent increase in property values would not be enough to make up for the loss of private property needed to achieve the idea.   The Chamber of Commerce distributed only 200 copies of the plan and then abandoned it because of opposition by realtors and developers.

Sixty years later, Los Angeles remains park poor.   Fewer than 30 % of Los Angeles’s children can easily reach outdoor recreation.  The private property sited near large public parks, such as Griffith Park, is expensive.  The middle class and working class neighborhoods surrounding Elysian Park are improved by their location but Elysian Park has often been under siege.  (Phyl Diri, “Where the Fern Brake and the Willow Find a Home,” California Historic Society Journal, October 1983)  The United States Army Corps of Engineers channeled the river and entombed it in concrete.  South Central is a concrete desert.

The heart of this city’s failure to create a more sustainable living environment is the conflict in ideas that underlies the American ideal of possessive individualism, which is a term coined by Canadian political philosopher C.B. Macpherson (1911-1987), to mean the political outlook in which an individual is conceived as the sole proprietor of his or her skills and owes nothing to society for them. These skills are a commodity to be bought and sold on the open market, and in such a society is demonstrated a selfish and unending thirst for consumption which are considered the crucial core of human nature.  That theory, he contended, prevented individuals from developing their powers of rationality, moral judgment, contemplation and even friendship and love.

In Peter L. Reich’s “Dismantling the Pueblo: Hispanic Municipal Land Rights in California since 1850,” The American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 45, No. 4 (Oct., 2001), pp. 353-370, Professor Reich contrasts the post-Revolutionary shifts in land use perspective with Mexican ideals of land use.  He writes:  “When the American political system was installed in 1846, land speculators and settlers pressured the new authorities to privatize the communal aspects of the Hispanic land system. The desire to commodify the land was not surprising in the context of the massive speculation and investment that had taken place elsewhere in the early nineteenth-century United States, often resulting in the concentration of land ownership in a few hands.” (p. 358)

Griffith J. Griffith purchased Rancho Los Feliz and donated the park to the city.  The Los Angeles River once was the boundary to the Rancho.  It extended south to part of Silver Lake, south of that point was once the Pueblo’s municipal lands.

Take a walk up from the Merry-go-Round in Griffith Park where a youngish Walt Disney first thought up Disneyland, through a landscape that is roughly what the natural landscape was during Rancho days to the top of the highest hill and look down at the San Fernando Valley, Burbank, Hollywood, Silver Lake, the green loom of Elysian Park, the skyscrapers on Bunker Hill, the concreted river, and imagine what we could have had, and think about what we have.




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