Rio de Los Angeles State Park on the Chopping Block
In a sprawling monolith like Los Angeles, a 40-acre park may not seem like much. But the Rio de Los Angeles State Park is far bigger than its footprint.
When the park opened on Earth Day in 2007 on a chunk of the former Taylor Yard, it was arguably the biggest victory for public space Los Angeles had seen in a generation. A former railroad freight switching facility, the area the park now occupies was slated to be developed into 650,000 sq. feet of industrial warehouses until a coalition of neighborhood groups and public space advocates sued the city of Los Angeles, Union Pacific Railroad and the development company Lennar Partners in 2001 to stop the mammoth project from being built near a crowded residential neighborhood.
To say it was an uphill struggle was an understatement. Los Angeles is notorious for its neglect of public space and is arguably the most park poor city in America. On top of that, the City Council had not only already approved the warehouse development, it offered to pony up more than $4 million in public subsidies to help the project along. But after years of fighting, the coalition eventually prevailed, and, with the aid of $45 million in state funds, the site was converted into beautiful park — the only decent sized public space anywhere near the dense residential neighborhoods of Cypress Park, Glassell Park and Mount Washington.
Now, after a decade of intense struggle and only two years after the park’s grand opening, the L.A. Times reports Rio de Los Angeles Park is slated for closure in the face of state’s massive budget deficit.
It doesn’t matter where in the country you live, advocates of urban parks and green space would be hard pressed to find a closure that could sting more. Rio de Los Angeles was the victory that gave Angelenos hope their city could change for the better. It helped launch a public space movement that got people seriously talking about the greening of the L.A. River — an idea that even most environmentalists would have considered laughable 20 years ago.
The construction of the Rio de Los Angeles State Park was American democracy at its best. The park’s closure would show it at its worst.