Community volunteer David Nott had taken middle school students on an urban hike through Silver Lake before, but they stumbled across something unexpected during a recent excursion — a roughly 11,000-square-foot area designed just for people on foot.
"Look!" Nott said to the handful of 11- and 12-year-old students, pointing to the newly built pedestrian- and bike-only Sunset Triangle Plaza. "This has become a social environment," he said.
Billed as Los Angeles' first "street-to-plaza" conversion, much of the new park originally was a two-lane swath of pavement that carried motorists along Griffith Park Boulevard.
But now there are large planters blocking vehicle access and several green cafe tables with shade-casting umbrellas. A basketball hoop is ready for anyone who wants a game, and the drab concrete surface has been painted lime with yellow-green polka dots.
Next to the pavement, a humble stretch of grass with a tiny fountain now seems larger, cleaner and more accessible. And that's where Nott's sixth-graders decided to unpack for lunch.
"This new plaza reveals the hidden potential of our public spaces, and shows how we can bring transformative change even during tough economic times," said City Councilman Eric Garcetti, a mayoral candidate who represents the surrounding district.
"Angelenos want safer and more welcoming streets for walking, jogging and bicycling, and the Sunset Triangle Plaza was designed to meet that need," Garcetti said in a statement.
It is the latest effort to morph city street space into pedestrian- and bike-only zones.
Last month, Garcetti was at the grand opening of EaCa Alley (named for East Cahuenga) in Hollywood, where a filthy passageway was morphed into a more approachable space with red brick, tables and chairs.
Officials said the temporary park in Silver Lake — bordered by Edgecliffe Drive, Maltman Avenue and Sunset Boulevard — cost $25,000, a mere fraction of permanent park efforts.
"Typically, it's so complex to try and get a park built," said city Planning Commission President Bill Roschen. But in this case, all the workers did was "paint and restripe and redirect traffic so that we create a park."
Roschen said he went to New York City, where the practice has been ongoing, to learn about the strategy and came back to Los Angeles with a similar plan.
The commission partnered with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which funded the pilot project, but hopes residents will want to foot the relatively small bill for similar efforts in their own neighborhoods.
The goal is to keep costs low enough, and the process easy enough, that residents will rally together to raise some money and at least temporarily give up a few traffic lanes to create a space that would better suit pedestrians.
Because the conversion is not necessarily permanent — Sunset Triangle Plaza is a pilot project and will come up for renewal in a year — officials said residents will face fewer development requirements and regulations.
"The city's not telling you to do these," Roschen said. "The city's offering that if you want one, you can find a way to do it. But it takes your money ... [and] you have to also be willing to sign a maintenance contract and a liability contract." Roschen said those each generally cost a few thousand dollars.
"Rather than waiting 10 or 20 years to get a park, you can have one in a matter of months," he said.
Although some people directly affected by the new park said the process may already be moving too quickly, others said it wasn't moving quickly enough.
Vytas Juskys, who is one of a group of owners of an apartment building and three commercial properties lining the plaza, said he supports the pedestrian-only zone but wishes that organizers had contacted him to work out essential details — like how garbage collectors can access his dumpsters with the road blocked.
"I love the idea; it's great. They're bringing the neighborhood together," Juskys said. "Just my frustrations on it, there was zero attempt to contact us. Now I'm dealing with damage control."
Bich Ngoc Cao, 30, lives a block away and wandered into the plaza earlier this month with her two Chihuahas, Ignacio and Jarvis.
She said the area was a bit unsafe before the road was closed, and sometimes she wouldn't cross that stretch of Griffith Park Boulevard at night for fear drivers wouldn't notice.
"I see more people out here when I look out from my window while working," Cao said. "I see [them] playing basketball, walking their dogs, kids riding their bikes.
"I'm really excited about this," she said. "This area is really lacking in park space."