South LA pocket park gets a facelift

imageHoover Recreation Center is a small little pocket park situated at the busy intersection of 25th and Hoover. It’s in the bustling working-class neighborhood of South Adams, which nestles up against the University of Southern California.

The fact that the park exists is unusual—older areas like South Adams in dense cities like LA typically don’t have enough parks and green spaces. City Councilman Ed Reyes supported the upgrade at Hoover:

“In this pocket [of LA], we’re talking about 40,000 people per square mile. Children are playing on the fire escapes, in the hallways of their apartments. The moms and dads are worried about where their children will be.”

These small parks function as essential breathing spaces in crowded urban lives.

But in a densely populated area like South Adams, it’s hard to carve out more space for anything. With local and state governments making massive cutbacks, it’s hard to find money to improve anything. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and small things can be done that add up to large improvements.

Said LA Parks Commissioner Barry Sanders, “We can never add enough acreage. So what you can do when you can’t add enough is you try to make what you’ve got count.”

Jill Werner, of the Werner Family Foundation, is a member of the Parks Commission. She was instrumental in getting a $150,000 grant from the Foundation for improvements at Hoover. That grant, in part, helped fund a study conducted by the University of Southern California’s Graduate Program in Landscape Architecture, which looked at ways in which the park could be better organized. USC professor Robert Harris, who supervised the study, said the park was underutilized because it wasn’t clear how to divvy up the space between different activities.

Hoover Recreation Center benefits from a $150,000 grant from the Werner Family Foundation to install walking trails, exercise equipment, new grass, and a general tidying.

“The people playing soccer, the balls always came into the place where the kids were playing. The picnic space was being occupied by people doing all kinds of things.”

A walking trail was added with exercise equipment installed at various points along the path. The trail gives valuable space for walking and exercising, and it creates a clear visual separation between spaces for different uses.

For instance, said Harris, “The path itself separates the picnic area enough that it will seem to everyone that that’s what that’s for.”

The new improvements, which also include freshly planted grass in the lawn areas, are a hit with the neighborhood. While the dedication ceremony was going on, several children and their families were playing in the playground and open spaces.

Local resident Juany Molina said she’s lived in the neighborhood for 42 years.

“I am 67 years old…now we have a place where we can come do exercises. Before we didn’t have anything like exercise machines, and there were many people drinking—we disapproved. But now I think when more people are coming, it’s going to be different. Nicer.”

The Parks Commission has plans to add 50 more pocket parks in areas, like South Adams, that have a lot of people and not enough parks.