Ricardo Lara Linear Park
Landscape Performance Benefits
- Provides habitat for at least 9 native birds observed on-site, such as California towhee and bushtits, and at least 5 native and introduced insects and pollinators observed such as the harlequin bug.
- Reduces surface temperatures by 0-47ºF in the sun and 2-34ºF in the shade as compared to an asphalt parking lot that resembles the site prior to construction.
- Improves social cohesion among residents, with 86% of 36 surveyed users reporting the park has made a noticeable positive change in the neighborhood and 68% of 37 users reporting that they have met new people and/or made new friends thanks to the park.
- Improves physical and mental health, with 87% of 38 surveyed users reporting that their physical activity level is higher, 89% of 37 reporting their physical health has improved, and 89% of 37 reporting that their overall mental health has improved since the park’s opening.
- Improves health through the community garden, with 50% of 26 surveyed users reporting that their family’s health has improved and 45% of 31 users reporting that they eat healthier due to their participation in the community garden’s programs and activities.
- Reduces noise pollution coming from Fernwood Avenue by up to 7 decibels, which represents a clearly noticeable change, in areas of the park where physical features serve as a sound barrier.
- Saved an estimated $47,800 in hauling fees by using the soil excavated for detention basins and swales to create hills on the site.
At a Glance
Former Land Use
3850 Fernwood Ave
Lynwood, California 90262
5.25 acres; 1 mile long
$4,949,947 (Proposition 84 grant funding)
Ricardo Lara Linear Park transformed five blocks of flood-prone, underused, dumping ground along Interstate 105 in Lynwood, California. The community-focused park occupies a mile of former residential lots, vacated and later demolished to accommodate the freeway which was completed in 1993, bisecting Lynwood. For this park-poor city with some of the highest obesity rates in the country, a series of community workshops were held to generate ideas for the new park. In addition to providing recreation, gardening, and gathering spaces, Ricardo Lara Linear Park captures and cleans stormwater runoff from the adjacent elevated freeway. The community-informed park begins to repair the environmental injustices caused by the last freeway built in Los Angeles County.
- A 1-mile-long, 8.5-ft-wide concrete walking path with accessible ramps at each street intersection connects a 5-block-long series of park areas to one other and to neighborhoods on the other side of Fernwood Avenue.
- Park nodes include 2 play areas, a dog park, a community garden with an outdoor classroom pavilion, seating areas with public art, fitness stations, and a parking area and entry court.
- A 49-gallon rain barrel collects and stores rainwater from the pavilion roof, which is reused as supplemental irrigation by connecting a hose or watering can to the spigot.
- The irrigation system waters 142,726 sf of plants and grass and is supplied with recycled water from the county’s water reclamation plant. 98% of the irrigated planting areas are watered through drip tubing.
- The site has 44 species of herbaceous plants (approximately 50% of which are native to the region) and 20 tree species.
- 10,000 sf of bioswales and flood retention basins are planted with native and drought-tolerant plant species such as silver bush lupine (Lupinus albifroms) and toyon (Hetermeles arbutifolia).
- 8 mile-markers in the curved trail help walkers and runners keep track of their distance and give helpful exercise tips along the way. Bike racks are also located on-site.
- 6 types of outdoor fitness equipment accommodate 15 people at a time, including combo bars, a sit-up bench, leg press, accessible vertical, accessible lat pull, and an elliptical.
- 8 playground structures designed for children ages 2-12 provide opportunities for strength-building exercise and play.
- A 6,000-sf community garden provides 20 raised beds for which citizens can sign up for a plot.
- A 1,160-sf pavilion in the community garden provides shelter from sun and rain with a picnic table in the center.
- A dog park with a 1,700-sf area for large dogs and a 600-sf area for small dogs provides a place for pet owners to exercise and socialize their dogs.
- A community art seat wall and a mosaic wall showcase the arts, while several standing-height mosaic tables depict animals — a theme chosen by the community.
- A series of bronze plaques set in the path around the play area told stories of Lynwood’s history. The plaques included stories about Lynwood as a Red Car trolley stop, a gear manufacturing center, a place where sugar beets grew, and as the place where a man named his 400-acre dairy and creamery after his wife’s maiden name, Miss Lynne Wood. Unfortunately the plaques are no longer present on-site, potentially having been removed for sale as scrap.
- Increase recreational opportunities and park access in a neighborhood with a low quantity and distribution of park space.
- Provide a buffer between the community and the elevated Interstate 105, which opened in 1993.
- Provide an accessible mile-long community connection corridor.
- Provide a community garden with plots available for nearby residents.
- Improve the health and well-being of residents by providing opportunities for physical activity.
- Increase sense of community.
- Provide habitat for pollinators with native plants.
- Capture and clean stormwater runoff from Interstate 105 before it enters the storm drain while reducing flooding and costs associated with flood-related issues.
- Miminize the park’s demand for potable water use by using recycled water.
Although the park was completed in 2015, the community engagement for Ricardo Lara Park started in 2010. At the time, community engagement was focused on crafting a strong application for a Proposition 84 grant to turn the vacant lots along the freeway into a park. Many community members were involved in on-site design and ideation meetings. In these meetings, community gardens and walking spaces were identified as the most important features for residents. At this time, Lynwood was considered to be park-poor and had one of the highest obesity rates in the country, which was an important drive for the park effort. Stormwater management was also an integral part of the project. In addition to the Proposition 84 grant, around 2012 many of the same residents were re-engaged for another stormwater management grant, though the City was not awarded the funding.
In 2015, community engagement ramped up again as construction started on the project. The community organizers assigned to the project worked on forming a park advisory committee made of a representative group of residents. Athletes, youth, activists, faith-based leaders, and artists were involved in developing programming ideas for the park and planning for a grand opening. Around that time a mosaic design making workshop was held, giving residents an opportunity to design mosaic tops for concrete tables installed at the park. For the grand opening, residents participated in a planting day.
- Concerns about facility use by people experiencing homelessness drive some of the park design decisions. A concern about people washing clothes in drinking fountains led to a decision to provide no drinking fountains in the new park. The restroom originally planned for the park was also removed due to concerns of attracting people experiencing homelessness. At one point, an idea was put forward to fill the whole park with large boulders in order to prevent people from sleeping there. The landscape architect successfully advocated for plantings and trees instead to provide human and ecological health benefits. During site observations in 2021, the freeway right-of-way behind the park was occupied by a small informal settlement made of boxes, tents, and tarps. Similar settlements have emerged or grown across the Los Angeles region, despite new funding at the city and county levels dedicated to supporting those experiencing homelessness. When surveyed, Lynwood residents expressed concerns for their safety in the park due to this type of informal use. For projects like Ricardo Lara Park, the role of the landscape architect might be to help communities understand the separate but inextricably linked issues of providing housing and services for those experiencing homelessness while also providing parks and open spaces that are inclusive and comfortable for all.
- In spring 2021, many birds and butterflies were observed around the native sages throughout the park. Later a site manager trimmed the shrubs, removing all the flowers and transforming the loose masses into tightly clipped individual balls in response to community concerns about safety and visibility. Designers have an opportunity to work with maintenance teams to understand their needs and provide guidance on pruning and timing to ensure that plants continue to provide habitat, for birds, insects, and other pollinators.
- The culvert bridges over the biofiltration swales were made with recycled-plastic and bio-based wood substitute. After installation several of the planks became damaged, with missing pieces creating holes in the planks. While it was selected for its sustainability and durability, the wood substitute was more expensive than wood or concrete and ultimately proved to be less durable in this particular application.
- The picnic pavilion is a custom shade structure designed to direct rainwater to an opening toward the center of the roof and down into a custom-designed storage tank in a unique hexagonal shape. The tank is colorful and interesting, but it lacks any indication for the public as to its use. Trash was observed at the bottom of the open tank. Park users likely assume that it is a trash receptacle due to its shape, size, and location in the picnic pavilion.
- The park’s community garden is largely unused. Surveys and conversations with residents revealed that people find the application process too tedious and the garden largely inaccessible due to a lack of programming or leadership. Recreation departments often struggle to manage community gardens, which involves fostering community leadership, timely payment of water bills and utilities, attracting and sustaining gardeners, developing programming opportunities, fundraising for materials and classes, and resolving conflicts among gardeners. In the Los Angeles region, it is common for cities to outsource management responsibilities to nonprofits such as the Los Angeles Community Garden Council, whose sole purpose is often to provide the type of services needed to successfully manage a community garden.
- Site observations showed that throughout the day the rubber surfacing used in the park’s playgrounds was often as hot as the asphalt on Fernwood Avenue. Because children are particularly sensitive to hot temperatures, alternative surfaces, such as engineered wood mulch, should be considered for sunny play areas.
- During value engineering, the number of trees was kept the same, but younger trees were purchased because they are less expensive than larger, older trees. Shrubs and groundcovers were spaced farther apart to reduce their numbers and overall planting costs. Even with these adjustments, the trees are flourishing in the face of drought at the time of writing.
Lithocrete Paving: Shaw & Sons
Play Equipment: Landscape Structures
Picnic Table: Multiplicity from Landscape Forms
Bike Racks: Forms and Surfaces
Benches: Landscape Forms — Neoromantico color bench
Mosaic Tables: Robin Brailsford
Culvert Bridges: Resysta recycled plastic lumber
Outdoor Fitness Stations: Greenfields Outdoor Fitness — Two-person sit-up bench, Four-person combo bars, Single elliptical fitness station, Four-person leg press, Two-person accessible lat pull, Two-person accessible chest press
Owner: City of Lynwood
Community Outreach: From Lot To Spot
Landscape Architect: SWA Group
Civil Engineers: VCA Engineers Inc
Irrigation Design: Sweeney & Associates, Inc
Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing Engineers: P2S Engineers
Mosaic Artist: Robin Brailsford
Role of the Landscape Architect
The landscape architect acted as the prime consultant for the City of Lynwood and led the design of the park’s built and natural elements. The landscape architect incorporated community feedback into the design of the park, working with the City of Lynwood to make sure the community’s priorities were met. Since the park opened, the landscape architect continues an ongoing relationship with the City of Lynwood to develop landscape guidelines based on the lessons learned from this park.
Case Study Prepared By
Research Fellow: Claire Latané MLA, LEED AP, SITES AP, Assistant Professor, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Research Assistant: José Guadalupe Gutierrez, MLA 2021, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Research Assistant: José Luis Reynoso, BSLA 2021, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Firm Liaison: George Kutnar, Associate, SWA Group
Firm Liaison: Jonah Susskind, Senior Research Associate, SWA Group
Claire Latané, José Guadalupe Gutierrez, and José Luis Reynoso. “Ricardo Lara Park Methods” Landscape Performance Series, Landscape Architecture Foundation, 2021. https://doi.org/10.31353/cs1791