Milkweed: Park Dweller or Beach Bum? There’s Only One Answer if You’re a Fan of Green

09.25.12 | By
Milkweed: Park Dweller or Beach Bum? There’s Only One Answer if You’re a Fan of Green

For the last two months I’ve been mostly indoors, yearning for some summer sun and dirt between my toes. I’m on maternity leave, so it’s really not been bad being inside, but it has definitely contributed to a significant case of cabin fever. And the heat – it has been intolerable! Well, rather only tolerable with the A/C on, but that doesn’t help the cabin fever. If I’m going to be indoors all the time, I’d at least like to have the windows open and feel a fresh breeze move across the house. But all this time indoors and in conditioned air has made me realize something: if given a choice, I’d much rather be a park dweller than a beach bum.

It is almost a sacrilege for a Los Angeleno to declare this, especially when you live in a coastal city so proud of their coastline and beach “culture.” My Midwestern family always tells me, “you’re lucky enough to live near the coast – go to the beach!” But it’s not so easy to simply “go to the beach” for most of us city dwellers, and then when you get there (after circling extensively for parking) you either roast in the sun or freeze if you attempt to enter the water. Where’s the in-between? Or really, where’s the GREEN?

Thankfully, downtown Los Angeles just got a lot greener, and is the perfect example of why I’ll take a sea of green over the ocean blue any day. Still under construction, the new Grand Park runs east to west from Grand Street to Hill Street and the City Hall downtown. Designed by Rios Clementi Hale Studios, a portion of the park opened in July and the remaining segments extending to City Hall, later this summer.

An urban lawn for neighboring government and civic buildings of Los Angeles, the park has all the elements necessary, or at least the six most important, to be successful and to make even a lunch at the park better than a day at the beach.

Movable furniture. And, yes, hot pink furniture is all the better. We don’t nail down furniture in our living rooms, so don’t do it in parks. Design the chairs and tables so they are not easy to be stolen, but easy enough to be moved to find shade, accommodate larger groups or even, as I saw in Grand Park, be draped with blankets for some extra shade and privacy. And yes, they need to be comfortable.

Curated plants composing a well designed landscape. This is my biggest problem with beaches, as plants are key to comfort outside. It doesn’t take a lot of them, they don’t need to be expensive, but they need to be used to divide spaces, buffer noisy edges, even teach something about the environment, change and grow each time you visit and, yes, even allow dogs a place to comfortably do their business.

Well-crafted materials and construction. Parks need amenities like benches, stairs, fountains, and coffee shops! They need to be designed well, built well and made/maintained to last. Again, a little bit of color goes a long way as we can see with Grand Park.

Private places. You need to be able to find intimate places in a park, a place to be alone to read a book, take a nap or sneak a kiss. Again, beaches: not really great at intimacy.

Public places of community. Parks need to be a destination; allow congregation and community. Be a meeting point, a place of demonstration and solidarity. You can do all that within a clearing, with a few strategically places benches or with a soapbox and a microphone. But when was the last time you went to an open table discussion on the beach?

Views/scenery beyond its extent. OK, this is the one element that a beach easily has. It’s better even yet when there is a sunset involved. But a park has beautiful sunsets AND views to urban places as well. I can’t think of a better way view a tall building than on my back on a blanket on the grass.

It’s exciting to see that it doesn’t take a natural occurrence to make a successful outdoor space. With manpower, community and some funds, you can build these places. In any city. Anywhere.

So, where do you land? Are you a park dweller or a beach bum?

Kara Bartelt is a design strategist in practice at kara b. studio. Kara enjoys the design process on all scales via her architectural practice, Lettuce Office, or by creating botanical art with air plants, via toHOLD. She wishes at 11:11 each day at Kara writes the Design Milk column, MilkWeed.