South L.A. Wetlands Park

Designers: PSOMAS | City: Los Angeles, CA | Project Type: wetlands
Date Visited: 11.28.12

Locations: S Avalon Blvd & E 54th St Los Angeles, CA
Size: 9 acre
Cost: $26 million
Official Opening Date: February 9, 2012

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An artificial wetland springs to life in an unlikely place: a former MTA bus yard, in an industrial neighborhood of South Los Angeles.

Located in what is described as a “park-poor area,” the South L.A. Wetlands Park introduces nine acres of greenery in an area plagued by industrial blight, a condition that’s largely resulted from decades of poor zoning practices. And surprisingly (especially given L.A.’s dry climate), this park isn’t the first artificial wetland to break ground in South L.A. In 2006, the Augustus Hawkins Nature Park opened on Compton Ave.

Though it wasn’t too long ago that wetlands were commonly viewed as mosquito-infested wastelands, wetlands are now protected under environmental law. Wetlands play important roles in maintaining ecosystems and can recharge ground water, remediate and clean water, and lower flood risks. At full capacity, this 4.5 acre wetland is said to be capable of processing up to 680,000 gallons of stormwater per day. In recognition of the importance of wetlands, the South L.A. Wetlands Park was largely paid for by Proposition O, a 2004 bond measure that sets aside money for water quality projects.

There were only a few people around when I visited the park on a weekday afternoon. The park was definitely a welcome sight, especially after having seen blocks upon blocks of rough and blighted neighborhoods as I traveled northbound on Avalon Boulevard by bus. Educational signage, bridges, white light poles powered by solar panels, and a wide variety of plant life lined the park–a radical change from a former bus depot. A dirt path curves around the body of the wetland.

I love the idea of this artificial wetland replacing a site of industrial blight, however, I wonder how much of my appreciation for the project had to do with already having a landscape architecture background. Although I visited nearly a year after it had opened, many of the California native plants still hadn’t filled in and the park still looked a bit sparse and barren, no doubt due to the drought this year. There was also construction underway at the other end of the park. I had read a few reactions by local residents, some of which expressed confusion over the park, asking questions about the lack of recreational facilities such as playgrounds and bathrooms. Despite its clear environmental benefits, it’s likely that this unconventional park will need a few years to not only grow into a lush wetland, but to also grow on the surrounding community.

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