Downtown Los Angeles is expected to grow by 125,000 people by 2040, and in the meantime city leaders are placing a focus on building new and accommodating green spaces to match the expansion.
We’ve already seen some of that effort pay off. The 12-acre Grand Park, which opened in 2012, has become a destination for civic and cultural events, while the 32-acre Los Angeles State Historic Park to the north offers a massive lawn that is regularly used for music festivals. Smaller spaces, from the city’s half-acre Arts District Park to the privately developed 13,000-square-foot South Park Commons have also sprung up in recent years.
As part of the city’s plans to overhaul zoning and set guidelines for Downtown’s development by 2040, the Department of City Planning is aiming to increase green space around the Fashion District, while the two-acre First and Broadway Park is expected to break ground next year.
But with all the focus on expanding Downtown’s park stock, why has Pershing Square, the neighborhood’s most storied park, sat neglected for so long?
Located in the heart of Downtown, Pershing Square has been a gathering space for more than a century. The square underwent a redesign in 1994 that quickly grew outdated, reflecting the now-abandoned trend of communal spaces with hardscaped surfaces.
It still hosts events, including a bevy of summer concerts and film screenings, and people still gather there, but amid Downtown’s embrace of outdoor public space, it’s fallen behind the neighborhood’s other, more inviting spaces.
What makes that trend so unfortunate is that it’s not as if there isn’t a plan. The city has been pursuing a major update for the park, with the nonprofit Pershing Square Renew working to find funds via Quimby funds and general public benefits dollars. A team led by Paris-based Agence Ter won a design contest in 2016, with a concept built around “radical flatness.” But since the design was chosen, there was silence until this summer, when the Department of Recreations and Parks offered a small update that work at the park would be done in phases. However, only the first phase, demolishing the pastel colored walls on Olive Street and putting in new stairs and elevators to replace faulty escalators, has been fully funded.
The seemingly endless renovation process is unfortunate. It’s one of the city’s most important park spaces and should be treated as such. If the city can’t handle the process, than the city should reach out to outside forces willing to help transform the five-acre space.
We’ve seen it happen before. The aforementioned Grand Park was funded primarily through a public-private partnership between the County of Los Angeles and Related Cos., part of the latter’s contract to build The Grand. The Music Center now runs the space and organizes a litany of popular community events.
Pershing Square has long been Downtown’s Central Park, and as Downtown booms, the city should explore all options to bring it up to date for a new crop of Downtown residents.