L.A.’s love of sprawl made it America’s most overcrowded place. Poor people pay a deadly price; you can’t get rid of them
On July 27, 2000, four thousand people flooded over a twenty-one-foot retaining wall dividing Boyle Heights from North Hollywood.
They had come from the Hollywood Hills for the first day of a free two-week run-up for Los Angeles County’s open-space program. They had come from all over Los Angeles to learn how to build an ambitious new park. Twenty-five years earlier, in the San Fernando Valley, a pair of city planners had conceived the idea to build a city park in a place with high housing costs: the gated communities in Hollywood. Now Los Angeles was in the process of following suit – and building a city park to show how it was possible.
In the days before, the streets of Hollywood are dotted with the remains of old apartment buildings, some with garages and others with empty lots. All of them are filled with dirt and debris. If a new apartment is not going to be built anywhere in L.A., it tends to be shoved to the side of a dirt lot or behind a fence. The open-space department wanted to change that, by creating a green, open-air park for the people of Hollywood.
The planners decided to begin with a block of property bounded by Laurel and North Hollywood Boulevards, just five blocks northwest of the Warner Bros. studio and the Warner Ranch theme park. Then the city would ask the public – the same people who tend to complain about Hollywood’s inaccessibility – to help them design a park that could contain more green space, become a gateway to nature, and provide a place for families to congregate.
“It took a lot of planning and a lot of meetings and a lot of discussion,” says Michael Meeks, one of five members of what is essentially a volunteer committee. Meeks, a sixty-one-year-old lawyer who has been with the open