What constitutes a "Great Place" is in the eye, and heart, of a beholder, of course. But the American Planning Association has both the knowledge and the knack for naming those come-together, often-visited-or-traveled spots that hold importance for the immediate neighborhood, the larger community, and the wider world.
The APA, which is the "independent, not-for-profit educational organization that provides leadership in the development of vital communities," just released its fifteen picks for the "Great Places in America." Some are public spaces, or "gathering spaces," where people come together for celebrations and day-to-day events. Some are streets and some are neighborhoods.
And one is Olvera Street, one of our city's most storied, and historic, thoroughfares. The Plaza-close landmark received a 2015 American Planning Association accolade in the "Great Streets" category, along with Laura Street in Jacksonville, Florida; Lexington Avenue in Asheville, North Carolina; Fifth Street in Dayton, Ohio; and Third Street in McMinnville, Oregon.
It's beyond a worthy choice. Not only does the history of Olvera stretch back centuries — the Avila Adobe, which sits near its center, is often billed as "the oldest standing residence in Los Angeles" -- but people enjoy it today. A lot of people, of course; head for Olvera at 10 o'clock in the morning or for a quick enchilada after sundown and the walkable stretch hums with tourists, locals, musicians playing accordions and guitars, artists, and cooks creating comida sabrosa just steps from the booths that line the center.
The criteria used in picking all of the "Great Places" includes "architectural features, accessibility, functionality, and community involvement."
Olvera Street stands for all those things, from the Blessing of the Animals on Easter Saturday to the solemn and candlelit Las Posadas in December to all of its day-to-day vibrancy.
As for other closer-to-us picks on the list? California had another entry: Beautiful Balboa Park, in San Diego, was a choice in the "Great Public Spaces" column.