LA's 50 Parks Initiative Brings Recreation to Park-Poor Neighborhoods

"Pocket" parks are being built in areas across LA

The newest park in Los Angeles opened Thursday to great fanfare from some very small park-goers and to some grand projects from city recreation officials.

Fulton Avenue Park in Valley Glen is just one of more than 50 "pocket" parks the city plans to open in coming years, for a total of 183 new acres of open space.

The 50 Parks Initiative takes advantage of underutilized properties, many left blighted by the housing crisis, and creates recreation spaces in park-poor neighborhoods.

On Thursday, officials and children alike celebrated the newest of the parks, on the northeast corner of Vanowen Street and Fulton Avenue (map).

"I'm not gonna watch a lot of TV, now I'm gonna come to the park," said 9-year-old Anthony of Van Nuys, who like other children enjoyed rides on the curving slide.

Officials said the city was determined not to stop the initiative at 50 parks. The new recreational spaces have meant a lot to families in areas that have benefited, they said.

"This is not a park or a playground now, this could be a spaceship. This could be an ocean-liner," said Jon Kirk Murki of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. "They're using their imagination; they're growing up. They need to dream."

In South LA, where many of the parks will be built, some worry that they will become a target for crime. But the city hopes the opposite will happen, and some residents agree.

"We are afraid to go to the streets, so this is a safe place. It's good for us," said Myra Alvarado, a childcare worker.

A 2009 city assessment found that LA's 420-plus parks were not equitably distributed. The city's parks department undertook the 50 Parks Initiative in recognition of that, while taking special advantage of economic conditions that have made more property available. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced details of the initiative in August.

A total of 53 sites have been identified for inclusion in the initiative. Of those, seven have already been built, according to a report from the Department of Recreation and Parks. Another 10 are under construction.

The remaining parks are in a design or pre-design phase, while several are still in the process of being transferred to city ownership or lease.

Parks are being created as funding is identified for each space. As of August, the city had identified about $81 million in funding from federal, state and local funds as well as from private sources.

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