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Grand Hope Park: An Appreciation

By David Kennedy
Published: Wednesday, July 26, 2006, at 08:04PM

I remember when Grand Hope Park opened back in the early 90's. I lived on the westside and didn't really know downtown. I read an article about a new park downtown. I was intrigued. So I loaded up the car with some kids and headed downtown for a picnic. I vividly recall the thrilled look on the six year old's face as clock tower tolled on the hour. We'd never heard anything like it. (Sadly, the clock tower is no longer working.) It was the beginning of a long and happy relationship.

Over the years, I recall numerous good times. A couple of birthday parties. An Easter egg hunt. A massive water fight with squirt guns and balloons. (Sounds like a good idea right now.) A performance by Shakespeare L.A. Great exhibits at FIDM's museum space and MONA. Now that I live a few blocks away at 9th & Broadway, my wife and I come here regularly with our three young children.

What surprises me about Grand Hope Park is that so many downtown don't seem to be aware that it exists. During the recent meetings and discussions regarding the vaunted Grand Avenue project, I saw no mention of Grand Hope. When my family goes, there's almost never anyone else there. Aside from some students hanging about the small cafe at FIDM and some Latino lovebirds seeking some privacy, the place is basically ours.

I think the main reason the park is not used more is because it is not a 'destination'. By design, it is a modest place. It consists of an open grassy area surrounded by trees and pathways; some playground equipment; various fountains; plenty of places to sit; lots of public art including a clock tower. There is nothing so compelling here that you're going to drive any distance to visit.

The reasons my wife and I come here all the time are:

  1. Location - I can't emphasize this enough. It is only three blocks from our home at 9th & Broadway. As any parent with young children can attest, anytime you can avoid getting in the car, it is a good thing. We can walk to the park within a few minutes.
  2. Kid-friendly - My daughter is clamoring to come here all the time. The playground equipment is good (although now showing its age). There are plenty of places for her to explore and just run around. I'm sure her brothers will follow her as soon as they can.
  3. Secure - The park has security monitoring the grounds. There are plenty of rules letting people know what is not allowed. My experience is these rules are enforced. Coming here we know we won't encounter any anti-social behavior or criminal activity.
  4. Design - Even though it is a modest place, the public art is excellent and really enhances the experience. My daughter loves finding all the little details. I do, too. The view north with the downtown skyline creates a very unique sense of place. My only complaint is how the shallow pool the fountains drain into had a hideous blue paint job recently. The original muted gray was much more subtle and pleasing.

I wish there were more places like Grand Hope in the future for downtown. But, I doubt they will be created. My concerns about the development of park space in downtown are twofold. First, the focus is on developing large parklands like the one near Grand Avenue or the Cornfields. The mentality is creating 'destination' parks. These are large resources which people are expected to drive to. I recall the recent statement of a developer who said he wished he bought more land when prices were more reasonable. I'd echo that and say I wish the city had bought more land downtown to develop many smaller parks like Grand Hope.

That said, even if the city had been so thoughtful in acquiring land for parks across downtown, the present situation in Pershing Square shows the inability of the city to maintain order in public space, except by forbidding its use to all. Given the current political gridlock regarding street people in downtown, there is no point in my family visiting Pershing Square. The place lacks any ammenities for kids. It is definitely not a secure place. And the design is mediocre at best. One result of the lack of decent public parks in downtown is developers converting rooftops into shared space for residents.

Regardless, Grand Hope is a great park for us. I'm sure we'll be coming here regularly as long as we live nearby. I'm confident all the development nearby will see usage of the park increase as new residents discover the simple pleasures of the place. I'd encourage more downtowners to get to know Grand Hope Park.

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