Out West student blog


Caroline at Benito Juárez Park
Benito Juárez Park

By Caroline Spears
B.S., Atmosphere and Energy Engineering, 2017
Climate-Smart Cities Intern at The Trust for Public Land

I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve loved LA, and I’ve heard a lot of people say that too – yeah, the traffic we could do without, but there’s character in a way that you don’t expect in a sprawling metropolis. For example -- Expectation: faceless, steel-and-glass skyscrapers, new-and-shiny, vaguely similar homes. Reality: a historical smorgasbord of architectural styles. Expectation: car-hopping between vast parking lots and massive box stores. Reality: not enough parking, but lots of tiny, unique-and-strange places popping up all throughout the city. And, crazily enough, the public transit’s pretty good.

The self-aware, intensively instagrammed trendiness of the Melrose district + the orchestratedly carefree vibe of Venice give a breadth to the city that defies both boredom and whatever expectation you had when you came here. Walking around each neighborhood, the tree-lined skyline pulses with the question: what makes a place a place? Like a real one, one with traditions and history and community and weird myths and quirks? How did LA get this weird, performative vibe – where even the classic LA palm trees aren’t from LA at all, but imports from Spain? How many rhetorical questions can I ask before you stop reading this blog post?

The difference between expectations and reality here in LA has got me thinking about the anchoring, centering power than unique places have. While it pains me to see things like mountaintop removal for ecological and social reasons (The people living downstream! The animals!), what gets me even more is the erasure of location, the flattening and washing away of what was once An Individual Place. It’s the same when lawns don’t use native landscaping: Where are we when we use the same 18 plant species in every single lawn in North America? How can we know where we are?

My internship this summer at the Trust for Public Land has gotten me thinking about these questions from a solutions-oriented standpoint. At TPL, I’ve seen parks created with beauty and community in mind. It’s not a rush to stamp as many cookie-cutter parks as possible into the fabric of a city – instead, it’s a longer, slower, more deliberate process. Community members write poetry and design murals that are inscribed on the parks’ walls. Artists create giant mosaic dragons and creative, unique play spaces. At the end, each space has its own character, with the imprint of the community in its design. These parks, and the wilderness areas that TPL conserves, make Los Angeles richer, more diverse, and more uniquely fascinating. They are places that help people send down roots, holding the city steady and strengthening its foundation.

Read more at the Out West Student Blog »

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