Locals Prefer Polka Dots to Parking Spots in Los Angeles Neighborhood
While sacrificing street parking may strike city dwellers as crazy, the benefits of having a new community space can prove well worth the change, as seen with the Sunset Triangle Plaza in Los Angeles’ popular Silver Lake neighborhood.
In March 2012, a short stretch of Griffith Park Boulevard got a fun green-on-green polka-dot paint job and was turned into a pedestrian-only zone. “Polka Dot Plaza,” as locals call it, has been a hub of activity ever since and has paved the way for similar projects around the city.
Much more than a place to stroll, the eye-catching plaza has become a fixture in the area, where locals can be seen hanging out at café tables, shopping at the farmers market, watching outdoor movie screenings, playing pickup basketball games, and enjoying impromptu performances on a piano that was donated by a local community member.
The plaza project was organized by People St, a Los Angeles Department of Transportation program to convert underused areas into common spaces where community members can connect with one another in a leisurely setting.
“Silver Lake’s Sunset Plaza was the first project we took on,” says Margot Ocanas, pedestrian coordinator with LADOT. “We wanted to establish a simpler way to get plans and approvals for new community spaces.”
Designed by Rios Clementi Hale Studios, the plaza was inspired by public spaces around Europe, says principal designer Frank Clementi. The initial reaction to the design was very positive, says Clementi. Well, for the most part.
“Some people really didn’t care much for the polka dots or color,” says Clementi. “And it was surprising to hear that strong reaction.”
It seems the design has grown on people, though.
“When we began planning to repaint the space two years later, there was an even louder outcry to keep the polka dots, so that’s what we did,” Clementi says, laughing.
In addition to the colorful design, large planters were put in place to section off the plaza from the street and help protect pedestrians from wayward vehicles.
Taking the lessons learned from Sunset Triangle Plaza, People St. developed a process for community organizations to apply for their own plazas, parklets, and bike corrals. With a tool kit of design options, project plans sail through the approval process, and ground is broken much faster than in the past, says Ocanas. “The goal is to help projects come together quickly and within budget,” she says.
“The Silver Lake Picture Show” was the first event held at the plaza, and four years later the biweekly summer series is still going strong, showing a film every other Thursday from late June to mid-September. Screenings of features are accompanied by local filmmakers’ short films and musical performances.
“It’s important to have areas like this where local artists and their community can connect,” says Ocanas. “It allows a community to feel more alive and provides a place where it can show off its own flavor.”
Three plaza projects opened in 2015 around Los Angeles, in North Hollywood, Pacoima, and South L.A. Applications for the next round of projects were accepted in the fall. Visit People St. to get updates and see projects take shape.
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