The community of Maywood in southeast Los Angeles is the most densely populated city west of the Mississippi River. Homes are built very close together and kids have little room to play. But the landscape is changing as one of three vacant lots was recently transformed into a pocket park.
“This park was born out of the idea that kids need a place to play outdoors, be healthy and experience nature,” said Gina Fromer, California director of the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit that helps protect land to provide healthy, livable communities.
Maywood is small. The city is one square mile with nearly 50,000 residents who are primarily moderate- to low-income families. Safe areas for kids to play outdoors are scarce.
For years, the land where the new park sits was vacant and used to store construction materials. The city saw an opportunity to develop the lot and called in the Trust for Public Land to help. The project was partially funded by a $50,000 grant from Edison International to the Trust for Public Land and the organization’s Parks for People Los Angeles program, which helps open new parks in underserved communities.
“In 2014, Edison International contributed $2.8 million to support environmental programs, including land conservation,” said Tammy Tumbling, director of Philanthropy and Community Investment at Southern California Edison (SCE). “The Benito Juarez Park is one of three that our 2014 grant will support to provide underserved communities access to recreation areas.”
Local residents played a major role in the project. They chose the theme, deciding on Benito Juarez to symbolize perseverance. They also asked for a safe place for kids to play, so the design features a three-headed dragon play area, a skate park and a mini soccer field. Mosaic artist Jolino Beserra turned the play area into an art piece to help stimulate kids’ minds.
“I thought that with Benito Juarez being from Oaxaca, I’d make the play structures like Oaxaca creatures — which are about fantasy — and that it’d be a great way to help the kids learn,” said Beserra.
“I grew up in this community and while we had a park three blocks away, it wasn’t the safest place to be,” said a Maywood community member who attended the recent park opening. “This is definitely going to have an impact on children and be a place they feel comfortable coming to.”
Keeping the historic California drought in mind, the landscaping uses drought-tolerant native plants and artificial turf in place of living grass. Lighting is powered through solar panels installed at the site.
“When kids come home from school, they’re going to rush to get their homework and chores done and bring their parents out to play,” said Fromer. “This is going to be the heart and epicenter of hope for Maywood residents.”