When you hear the delighted squeals of children splashing in the trickling streams of Vista Hermosa Natural Park, see families picnicking on a lawn, or inhale the aromatic scents of white sage and coyote bush while strolling trails that feel like they’re in the foothills, you soon realize: In the great battle of L.A. sprawl versus livable green space, landscape architect Mia Lehrer is gaining serious ground.
For much of her career, Lehrer and her firm, Mia Lehrer + Associates, have worked to turn the city’s underutilized industrial and commercial properties into neighborhood parks. Recent successes include Vista Hermosa, in downtown L.A. Once an abandoned oil field, this 9.5-acre park—which, when it opened in 2008, was the first new park built downtown in a century—was designed to look and feel as natural as Santa Monica Mountains habitat. Angelenos who live nearby have easy access to the park’s walking trails, picnic spots, and children’s “adventure” area, with its giant snake and turtle sculptures built with the help of movie-industry prop artists.
In 2012, South Los Angeles Wetlands Park opened on a derelict 7.3-acre parcel that was once an MTA bus yard. And opening in 2013: the Natural History Museum North Campus, 3.5 acres of urban “wilderness” on what was formerly a parking lot.
Perhaps most significant will be the gradual conversion of the concrete-lined Los Angeles River—a setting made famous by a car race in the 1978 film Grease—into a continuous greenway as part of the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan. It will transform the way L.A. looks and operates, says Lehrer. “People could live, work, and play all in the same area.” Construction of a bridge for equestrians, bicyclists, and pedestrians from North Atwater Park to Griffith Park has already begun. “Rather than separating communities, it will connect them. That’s what the river should be doing.”
Written by Sharon Cohoon for Sunset Magazine