Some ideas to help Grand Park become the urban oasis we need

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Ballet in Grand Park. Photos by Iris Schneider.

Los Angeles has poured money, and years of thought, into the creation of Grand Park, a vertical space that stretches from the steps of City Hall west past Broadway and Hill Street, ending at Grand Avenue, across from the Music Center. A few visits to the park have made me think. The website makes it clear that the city hopes it will become the new destination downtown. They call the park an "urban oasis," but every oasis needs a watering hole. Where is the food and drink? With the hundreds of new restaurants that have opened downtown, did no one think about making refreshments available in kiosks scattered through the park?

Trying to create a "town square" where all of LA's citizens can gather for recreation (4th of July pyrotechnics) and public events (Mayor Garcetti's inaugural) is a great idea. And in September, there will be the city's nod to James Turrell with "Exxopolis," a free interactive walk-in sculpture utilizing light, sound and color. Whether Grand Park can become that place remains to be seen. At this point I'd say some changes would help, and would not be that difficult to make.

Here is my list of ideas for making the whole park more fun:

Free parking, or at least a big discount on the $10 flat fee parking rate, perhaps just until the park finds its audience. I know it's important to encourage people to use public transportation. But until that becomes second nature, a break on parking would help. Once it becomes a destination, public transportation will become part of the process. But the big parking fee and lack of street parking is too much of a deterrent right now. A free event isn't free if it costs $10 to see it.

More diverse activities. It's nice to have a concert or movie and some food trucks and they have a busy schedule at the park ( But once these events are over, there is little reason to hang out. I recently returned from New York City, where Bryant Park, behind the main library in the heart of downtown, has become a vibrant destination. Follow their lead: Ping Pong tables available to all comers, all day and into the evening (who needs Susan Sarandon?), an outdoor "reading room" with newspapers and magazines on library stands, the ones with the sticks through the spines. Bryant Park is thriving -- it even has some outdoor restaurants -- and is a great place to spend an afternoon or evening and people-watch. No reason we can't do some of that here. Our weather is better!

Take advantage of your captive audience. While on jury duty recently, I had to dash up past Hill Street to Starbucks for some coffee or a sandwich. There are hundreds of jurors looking for a place to take a quick break. Sell sandwiches and healthy snacks at kiosks open in the park. Create some jobs while providing a welcome service for jurors and put the park on people's radar.

More shade. It will take a while for the trees to grow. Give people a place to take shelter from the summer sun if you are expecting the crowds to come. You could take advantage of SciArc students to design some cool portable shade structures.

How about a playground for kids? If you are expecting families to utilize the park, give them something to do. A few pink chairs and tables, in the blazing sun, just won't cut it. I have fond memories of my schoolyard when I was growing up. Every yard had a "parkie," the person in charge of the jump ropes, basketballs, Spaldings. Why can't we have Frisbees, balls, jump ropes, maybe even some kites on hand, available with a driver's license as deposit? Nothing like the sound of kids -- or grown-ups -- playing to know that there's joy in the world. And while you're at it:

Some chess tables. A croquet set. A badminton net. Maybe an art exhibit. The possibilities are endless, once you start to think about it. Given the dearth of trees and grass downtown, the park is a welcome addition to the urban landscape. Now, all we need are some ways to make the people happy.

A little thinking out of the box. The LA Ballet performance was held at the upper end of the park, nearest to Grand Avenue and the Music Center. It was so crowded that probably half of the people there couldn't see a thing. Meanwhile, the lower end of the park near City Hall was virtually deserted. Why not have those big events where sightlines would be much improved for the large crowds who do venture downtown?

A little security around the very open public bathrooms might not be a bad idea. I recently walked through the park in the evening and the restrooms were unlocked and very clean but I was surprised that not a soul of security was around. I love the idea of unlocked restrooms, but if something untoward ever did happen, who would answer a call for help?

The view of City Hall lit up at night is beautiful. So is the idea of a city united, gathering together to forget our differences and celebrate life's simple pleasures: the joy of a beautiful day with family and friends.


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