The Limited Utility of Urban Lakes

Echo Park, Los Angeles

Echo Park, Los Angeles photo by newsphotog2.

I was in Echo Park (the gentrifying neighborhood of LA) today and was struck by how hobbled Echo Park (the park) is by it’s gigantic lake that easily takes up 90% of the park’s area. Absurd! Among the 50 largest US cities, Los Angeles ranks 41st in park acreage per capita — worse than Houston, San Diego, Phoenix, and Dallas. (But not New York! Take note big apple partisans.) Here’s a chart based on data from the Trust for Public Land’s 2002 study (click for a readable version):

Open space per capita for major cities per Trust for Public Land data.

My chart of open space per capita for major cities per Trust for Public Land data.

A measly 7.9 acres per 1000 people (including water!), which is why if you walk by any inner city park on a weekend you’ll see families barbecuing on top of each other or playing halfcourt soccer (it doesn’t work as well as basketball). Given that, it’s especially crazy for a city to spend valuable park area on space that’s essentially useless. Lakes can be beautiful and help create nice microclimates, but so can verdant tree-covered spaces, and the latter can also be used for hiking, sleeping, sports, picnics, etc.

Plus lakes are much more difficult to construct and maintain, and as a result they tend to be extremely unclean, to the extent that the one nice feature about a lake, the one thing that would make that park the place to be on a hot summer day, swimming, can’t be done. The water just sloshes around temptingly, but you can’t jump in. Frustrating!

I doubt there is an ability to fill in existing park-lakes, given that “filling in the lake” sounds like the nefarious plan of an eco-villain and Echo Park itself is now a historic monument, but even reducing in size the lakes at certain parks would reclaim valuable land. At minimum, future parks, assuming we ever build more, should certainly not be designed around lakes.

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