A cap park over the 101 Freeway in Hollywood, California, would create badly needed park space, improve the infrastructure, create sustainable green space, and spur economic development.

hart_3_200Though Hollywood, California, is arguably one of the most famous neighborhoods in the world, one thing it is not known for is its park space. Instead, it is known for the Hollywood Freeway, a busy expressway traversing the community as one segment of U.S. Route 101. Nearly a quarter of a century ago, Hollywood resident and landscape architect Edward V. Hunt envisioned a cap park over the 101 Freeway in Hollywood as a way to create badly needed park space. The idea lay dormant until 2006, when Donald Scott, a banker and Hollywood Chamber of Commerce board member, revived it and convinced the chamber to take the lead in pursuing it.

Cap parks are not a new phenomenon. One well-known cap park is Seattle’s 5.2-acre (2.1-ha) Freeway Park, completed in 1976; Phoenix and Sacramento, as well as other cities, also have cap parks. A recent example of an urban cap park is the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway spanning Interstate 93, which was buried as part of Boston’s Big Dig project.

In addition to creating often badly needed open space in urban areas, cap parks generally lead to infrastructure improvements as well. This would be the case with the proposed 44-acre (18-ha) Hollywood Central Park, which would span the 101 Freeway between Santa Monica Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard. In Los Angeles County alone there are currently four cap parks in various stages of planning, including two in Santa Monica and one in downtown Los Angeles (“A ‘Central Park’ for Los Angeles,” August 2008, page 42). Of the four, the Hollywood Central Park is the furthest along in planning and design.

The Hollywood neighborhood is one of the most park poor in Los Angeles. It has only 0.005 acres (0.002 ha) of open space per resident, compared with 0.012 acres (0.005 ha) per resident in Los Angeles, and is among the California communities with the least park space per resident. More than 180,000 people, including 40,000 children, live within one mile (1.6 km) of the proposed park.

Only one-third of the children in Los Angeles live near a park, playground, or other safe place to play; in comparison, 91 percent of New York City children live within walking distance of a park. The median income of households within a mile of the proposed Holly­wood Central Park is $23,481—about half the area median income. In addition, 75 percent of the people living in this area are nonwhite, with 53 percent being Hispanic. Because park space in the city and region is concentrated in the wealthier neighborhoods, racial and ethnic minorities are significantly less likely than nonminorities to have access to open space, playgrounds, and similar facilities.

In March 2008, the international planning and design firm EDAW was selected in a public bidding process to conduct a feasibility study for the Hollywood Central Park. Community meetings began in April 2008, and that November, EDAW completed the feasibility study and reported its findings at a community gathering at a high school in Hollywood. That same month, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) released its vision plan for the park. The two reports taken together indicate that an urban park over the Hollywood Freeway is feasible from a financial and engineering standpoint, has broad support from the community as well as local elected officials, could provide needed open space while knitting the neighborhoods back together, and could improve the infrastructure of the freeway and the surrounding streets, bridges, and highway ramps.

That December, the Friends of the Holly­wood Cap Park Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization, was created to lead the efforts to plan, design, and construct the Hollywood Central Park. Parallel to these activities during fall 2008, a master design studio at the University of Southern California School of Landscape Architecture conducted a charrette in which three teams of graduate students developed scenarios visualizing the park.

In March 2010, the northern California office of Beacon Economics completed a report for the Friends of the Hollywood Cap Park titled “Hollywood Central Park: Evidence for Return on Investment,” which presents evidence of the community, economic, environmental, energy, and infrastructure-related benefits that would accrue from construction of the park.

One benefit is that it would reconnect communities on either side of the 101 trench that have been separated since the Hollywood Freeway was built nearly 50 years ago. In addition, mere access to and interaction with greenery and recreational space is widely believed to have health benefits, even if a person does not engage in physical activity there.

Also, land use and development studies have shown that substantial public improvements to an area will attract significant additional private investment and development. For instance, Boston is projected to draw over $7 billion in private investment to neighborhoods surrounding the 15-acre (6-ha) Rose Kennedy Greenway. According to U.S. Department of Transportation calculations, construction of the Hollywood Central Park would create 40,000 direct and indirect jobs, 30 percent of which would be accounted for by entry-level and apprenticeship programs and local hires.

hart_2_351From an environmental and energy perspective, the Beacon Economics report notes that building a cap park would be a fiscally and environmentally responsible means of providing much-needed green space in this densely populated area. Further, using cutting-edge green technology and drought-resistant plant species would ensure the sustainability of the park.

The cap park would also provide an opportunity to improve the aging underlying infrastructure in the area, including the freeway itself, on- and off-ramps, and overpasses, providing a safer, more efficient transportation network. In addition, creating a pedestrian-friendly, centrally located, and easily accessible public space with solid connections to public transportation will encourage the use of mass transit and reduce congestion and emissions. Finally, the cost of infrastructure improvements related to the cap park would be lower than that for comparable projects because the freeway is already below grade.

Challenges remain for the Friends of the Hollywood Cap Park as it endeavors to make the urban park a reality. The EDAW feasibility study estimates the cost of building the park at $949 million; a more recent cost estimate by the Psomas consulting engineering firm puts the total development cost closer to $1.15 billion. This makes the estimated cost for the Hollywood Central Park $237 million to $287 million per quarter mile. That leaves the largest remaining challenge—raising the funds needed to plan, design, and build the park. An important step was taken this March when the Los Angeles City Council and council president Eric Garcetti committed up to $2 million in redevelopment funds to complete the environmental impact report (EIR). The EIR scope of work will begin in September 2011 with the city’s Bureau of Engineering as the lead agency.

Successful completion of such a park will shine new light on the potential for creating needed urban parks in dense settings while at the same time improving the infrastructure and creating sustainable green space. The Holly­wood Central Park can improve the quality of life in a community such as Hollywood while at the same time spurring economic development, and enhancing the park’s potential as an example of responsible public and private investment.