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A Vision of City Parks

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It’s easy to look at a seaside bluff and demand preservation. What cities need are visionary leaders who look at trashy and tumbleweed-strewn wasteland and see children sprinting over lawns and families picnicking under trees.

Until recently, most politicians in Northeast Los Angeles looked at Taylor Yard, an old railroad switching yard, and envisioned the big-box industrial development that already encroaches on neighborhoods on this flat stretch between Elysian Park and Mt. Washington. Lennar Partners, which controls part of this land, saw the same thing.

Now local politicians see a park, and Lennar has agreed to sell its land to the state.

What inspired this turnaround? The Cornfield. Years ago city officials had decided that this dusty 32-acre patch of broken bottles and splintery railroad ties near Chinatown, just south of the Taylor Yard, should become an industrial park. Community activists and local environmentalists had other ideas. They argued that the property, near the Los Angeles River, had a higher use, from games of tag to quiet walks. By March they had prevailed, convincing the land’s owner to sell the Cornfield to the state and nailing down $36 million, mostly in bond funds, for the deal.

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This turnaround made Taylor Yard, which fronts the river, even more desirable as open space, and the land’s owner lost hope that the mayor and City Council members would continue to support its building plans. In recent months, the company began to talk seriously about a sale similar to that which will eventually turn the Cornfield into a state park.

If approved by the state, the American Land Conservancy, a San Francisco-based environmental group, will buy a 30-acre parcel in Taylor Yard for $25.8 million, again using mostly state park bond funds. There are many details yet to be fought out, but this land, along with an adjacent 62 acres that Union Pacific has said it may sell to the public, would give people in Cypress Park and surrounding communities much needed soccer fields, riverfront picnic grounds and hiking and biking trails.

The deal is one more welcome indication that planners are starting to believe that recreation is a legitimate urban need and that “built” is not always better. They seem to be embracing the notion that when they envision the future of ruined urban property they should take into account the needs of the people who live near it.

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