L.A.'s Eastside, in need of green space, will get a new 12-acre park under 6th Street Viaduct

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 09: The 6th Street Viaduct was open to pedestrians during a community celebration on Saturday, July 09, 2022. The $588-million project took more than six years to complete. The weekend celebration featured live music, food, a market, vintage car display and a fireworks show on Saturday night. The bridge will officially open to cars on Sunday at 7 p.m. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles plans to add a 12-acre park under the 6th Street Viaduct, a project expected to cost at least $20 million. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

For the record:
4:37 p.m. May 17, 2023: An earlier version of this story said the 6th Street Park, Arts and River Connectivity project is expected to cost more than $20 million and be completed in 2024, and that Hargreaves Jones was the viaduct project designer. The project is expected to cost $60 million and be completed in 2026, and the L.A. Bureau of Engineering was the project designer. Hargreaves Jones was the landscape designer.
3:39 p.m. May 15, 2023: An earlier version of this story stated that Laura Velkei said the controversy surrounding racist comments made by city leaders, including Kevin de León, may have slowed progress on the 6th Street Viaduct park project. She was referring to the politics surrounding the City Council and lack of funding.

When the 6th Street Viaduct opened last summer, Angelenos massed in revelry — so much so that authorities shut down the bridge for several nights because of street takeovers and other dangerous activity.

In a community starved of public gathering spaces, the bridge near Boyle Heights became one of its own. Soon, it could stretch over a new neighborhood park with sports facilities, picnic spots, a play area and a plaza where artists can display their work.

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted last week to allocate $2 million to begin construction of the park under the new bridge — a project that aims to add green space to two park-poor neighborhoods.

“Park equity is not just a matter of convenience, it's a matter of social justice,” Councilmember Kevin de León said in a statement. “All communities, regardless of their zip code, deserve access to quality parks and open spaces."

The 6th Street Park, Arts and River Connectivity project is expected to cost $60 million, and construction is scheduled to begin this summer, according to Mary Nemick, the director of communications for the Bureau of Engineering, the viaduct project designer. The 12-acre public recreational space is to connect the Arts District and Boyle Heights neighborhoods, spanning both sides of the bridge along the L.A. River.

The Arts District and Boyle Heights were found to have a need for public recreation areas, according to a 2016 parks assessment study funded by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. The average ratio in the county at the time was 3.3 acres of parkland per 1,000 people; Boyle Heights had less than a fifth as much.

When the 6th Street bridge opened in July, people flocked for selfies or an early-morning stroll.

"This bridge and park project has really brought us together to try and better our communities," said Laura Velkei, an advocate for green spaces and a founding member of the Arts District Community Council of L.A. "We're looking forward to any public space where people can gather and be a part of something bigger."

Hargreaves Jones, the landscape designer, said the area is envisioned as an “urban park" with food trucks, lunch areas and sprawling gathering spots.

The Boyle Heights side will include sports courts and fields, picnic and grilling areas, a splash pad and a children’s area, according to the city’s plan.

Shmuel Gonzales, chair of the Planning and Land Use Committee on the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, said re-opening the bridge reinvigorated the community, but "we are so deprived of actual green space."

“We want the park to serve the people of Boyle Heights and not just be a project that enables gentrification or a onetime gift without continuous upkeep,” Gonzales said.

The Arts District side of the park will include a plaza where artists can gather.

"We've lost a lot of our local artists because of rapid development downtown, so this gives us an opportunity to program art for the general public and for the community at large. And that's really exciting," Velkei said.

The park will be funded largely by the Parks and Water Bond Act of 2018, which De León wrote when he was a state senator.

Velkei said politics surrounding the City Council and lack of funding may have slowed progress on the viaduct project.

"We connected with Boyle Heights because we cannot lose this public space due to the shenanigans of people that will be gone in a couple of years," she said.

The park is expected to be completed in 2026.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.