Parklets in L.A. strive to invigorate street life, create a sense of community

The Spring Street parklets created in downtown Los Angeles a couple of years ago were meant to enrich the street life and create a sense of community in a city where sometimes pedestrians seem to be a rarity. But while some see beauty in these sidewalk extensions, which converts parking spots into a miniature parks, others see an eyesore.

The two existing parklets, commonly referred to as the L.A. Café and the Joe’s Pizza because of their respective locations, came to life in early 2013 as pilot programs carried out by the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC).

“They don’t upkeep them enough,” said Carlton Daniels, 36, glancing at the space created in front of Joe’s Pizza, between 6th and 7th streets. The parklet has nothing more than a table and some bike racks, which, locals say, is a far cry from what it was when it was unveiled two years ago.

Because it wasn’t near any operating business when it was opened (the pizzeria is only a few months old), the Joe’s Pizza parklet became more susceptible to illicit activity such as drinking, smoking and seats being stolen.

“This one sucks,” James Ramon, 58, of Los Angeles said as he leaned against the parklet’s table smoking a cigarette. “It started off with more and ended up with less.”

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Ari Simon, director of Planning for the Historic Core Business Improvement District (HCBID), told Fox News Latino they are working with the pizzeria to reintroduce seating.

Some local residents also mentioned the presence of homeless people and uncleanliness as unappealing factors of the Joe’s Pizza parklet.

“We do daily cleaning rounds so we keep it clean as much as possible,” Simon said. “[But] we encourage people who live and come here to do their part and treat it like the kind of public park we want to see here.”

Meanwhile, the parklet in front of L.A. Café is another story. Fully renovated after a driver crashed into it in 2014, the new parklet reopened in March comes closer to its founding goal.

“I like the one for L.A. Café,” Felipe Consuelo, 39, said. “It provides more seating. It has more of a social scene.”

Both parklets started out with similar enthusiasm and funding, but their fortunes diverged greatly.

The one in front of café had a foosball table, exercise bikes, chairs, stools and other seating options, while the other one, just 300 feet down the street, consisted of a long table with stools, exercise bikes and a few chairs. Both were decorated with planters.

“The idea is to increase activity and create destinations on our main thoroughfares and not just places to drive through as quickly as possible,” said Councilman Jose Huizar, an active member in the parklet program along with the city’s departments of planning and transportation, the UCLA Complete Streets Initiative, the Gilbert Foundation and others.

No longer pilots, the parklets are now part of the L.A. Department of Transportation “People St Program,” which earlier this year also introduced plazas in North Hollywood, Pacoima and South Los Angeles. Four more parklets are expected to debut later this year.

“I think the true importance of the parklets and People St Program is that they represent a shift in our planning transportation policies … where we prioritize pedestrians and bike riders as much as cars,” Huizar said in an email.

“It’s not always about getting people from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible,” he added. “It’s also about creating a Point C – a destination in the middle – and that’s where community happens.”