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American Society of Landscape Architects


October 2008 Issue


Heads Up for Low-Flying Planes
A park is carved out amid aircraft in Santa Monica, California.

By Morris Newman

Heads Up for Low-Flying Planes

Like a plant sprouting through a crack in the pavement, the Santa Monica Airport Park appears to have broken through the asphalt and concrete of this industrial site in the West Los Angeles area. This is how a park might look if parks had wills of their own and were able to assert their greenness into a largely plant-free environment of old stucco buildings, hangars, and small aircraft tie-downs.

While a park tucked inside a general aviation airport might seem incongruous to some, none of the two dozen people present on a July afternoon seemed to notice. A succession of parents retrieved their six-year-olds from summer camp. Couples walked up and down sloping pathways on either side of this long and narrow park. Two large dogs, one yellow and the other black, lolled in the soft decomposed granite in the off-leash area, ignoring repeated calls of “come ’ere, boy.” Only the soccer fields were empty, although they get plenty of use during evenings and weekends.

The popularity of the park is easy to understand: Open space is scarce in this dense residential area, where the small, oceanfront city of Santa Monica meets the larger city of Los Angeles. Although Santa Monica generally gets good marks for open space, this part of town is park starved, and the airport facility is the first new park in this rapidly growing city in 24 years. The full-to-overflowing program of dog park, tot lot, picnic tables, active green space, sports fields, plus a concrete platform for large-scale public art installations, testifies to the pent-up demand for active open space in a largely single-family neighborhood. (During opening day festivities last year, a group of Los Angeles residents picketed the park, protesting the ban on Los Angeles dogs in the Santa Monica park. Santa Monica, a socially conscious city, later opened the dog park to all, controlling crowds with a licensing system.)

Santa Monica Airport Park is a long-held, hard-won goal of the city. Prior to the design of the park, the city hired Ah’bé Landscape Architects to create a master plan of open spaces throughout the 227-acre airport. The airport park, located just off a major boulevard, is the first open space in the master plan to be realized.


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