A New Park In L.A. Takes The City Back To Its Natural Roots

The Los Angeles basin has some of the nation’s most bountiful waterways, estuaries, and wetlands. Or had them, rather. Over the last century, the city has been covered with a blanket of more or less continuous asphalt.

But in some places, nature is making a comeback. An old bus yard in South Los Angeles, in the heart of the concrete jungle, has just been transformed into the city’s largest urban wetland.

The new South Los Angeles Wetland Park, which opened its gates this month, sits on a nine-acre site on Avalon Boulevard that used to be a parking lot for Metro vehicles. In the center of the site is a fenced-off wetland area with pools and native plants. Surrounding it are walking paths, observation decks, and seating areas for the public. In a second phase of development, the park will get a rail museum, to honor the site’s history, and a community meeting space.

In addition to providing much-needed green space in one of Los Angeles’s most densely populated communities, it also serves an important ecological function: purifying rainwater. During rains, water generally flows directly from the street, where it picks up pollutants, to the ocean. This urban wetland provides an intermediate step. It collects urban runoff, and its native plants and bacteria in the pools cleanse the water before it flows into storm drains.

The project took several years to plan and develop and cost around $26 million. Most of that money came from Proposition O, a bond measure that set aside funds for water quality projects. It still looks a little barren at the moment, but City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who backed the project, said that in a few years “it will look like it’s been here forever.”

In a way, it has.