A Tiny Corner of Nature in a Busy Neighborhood

The 13,000-square-foot South Park Commons. 

The park is tiny, measuring roughly a quarter-acre, but even at that size it is a noticeably quiet respite in bustling South Park. During the day people stop by to catch a moment of calm. Others use it as a shortcut between Grand Avenue and Margot Street.

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The South Park Commons is a 13,000-square-foot open space at the base of the Aven apartment complex. Though created by developer Mack Real Estate Development as part of the project that debuted in January, the park at 1120 S. Grand Ave. is open to the public.

The South Park Commons was designed by landscape architecture firm Rios Clemente Hale and opened in May. It’s simple in scope, with a concrete path flanked by pockets of flowers and trees (both potted and not), as well as wood-paneled chairs and tables. Shade comes from the trees and the two tall buildings on either side of the space.

Mack Real Estate Development created the park in part to help the community, according to Kevin Lindquist, chief operating officer with the developer. He said that when the company purchased six lots in South Park in 2012 for $80 million, the idea was always to think on a larger scale. The park would benefit residents of the five buildings the developer intended to create (two are now open), as well as anyone else who lives or works in the area.

The community was immediately interested, according to Ellen Riotto, executive director of the South Park Business Improvement District. She said that early design meetings drew a heavy turnout, with people are eager to get more open space in the area.

Lindquist said the early feedback had been positive.

“We know our residents enjoy it as an extra amenity space, but what we’ve heard from the community is that it gives something of an oasis in the city,” he said. “The thought was that it would be more of a passive park, to sit and take in the day.”

That appears to be how it is being used. People come and go, sitting for a few minutes, often in the morning or at lunch. Others zip in to take a phone call.

During a recent visit, the park was sparsely attended. Lupe Morales, who works in South Park, said that she was there on her lunch break, and that it was nice to have a new green space in the area.

“There’s some construction noise nearby, sure, but it’s really mostly quiet,” she said.

Lindquist said that shade and seating were priorities in designing the space, so the development team added mature greenery instead of saplings. At the same time, seating was arranged on the edges of the paseo to avoid a feeling of clutter.

Privately developed parks can benefit the general public, according to Esther Margulies, director of the Master Landscape Program at the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture (Margulies worked on the initial entitlements for Aven and the park while with the firm AECOM, but left the project before Rios Clemente Hale Studios designed the space). She said there is a green-space deficit in South Park, and that while the South Park Commons is compact, the developer approached it from the lens of how it would benefit the public, and not just residents.

“I think every bit of open space, if it truly behaves like open space, is a benefit and of value to the people in South Park and the city of L.A. in general,” she said.

The park is open daily from 6 a.m.-7 p.m., with fences and entrances that are locked after hours. There are security cameras that can monitor activity in the park. Neither dogs nor drones are allowed.

Riotto said that even with the limited space, the development team has provided some essential elements for the area.

“As far as the landscaping, they did a fantastic job with the color palette and shade,” Riotto said. “Part of the challenge of living in urban Los Angeles is the lack of shade, and both given how the park is situated, but also the trees chosen, it contributes to the livability of the neighborhood.”

Lindquist expects the space will serve community events. It recently hosted the graduation for students from the Metro Charter Elementary School. He said that in the coming months, the team at Aven will increase programming.

South Park Commons is at 1120 S. Grand Ave.