Studio-MLA (formerly Mia Lehrer + Associates)

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Los Angeles, CA


Parks with Benches – Including in Los Angeles – Gain Appreciative Audiences

By ccsullivan
Jan 19, '22 2:06 PM EST
Vista Hermosa Natural Park in Los Angeles. Photos by Hunter Kerhart, courtesy Studio-MLA
Vista Hermosa Natural Park in Los Angeles. Photos by Hunter Kerhart, courtesy Studio-MLA

  • Thriving example of an urban natural park offers model for successful, equitable park designs

Covered in leading media including The New York Times Magazine and igniting a national conversation on successful park design, Vista Hermosa Natural Park has been lauded for boldly returning the serenity and diversity of nature to the Los Angeles urban core — including ample park benches to sit on and marvel at it all.

Highlighting recent choices in cities worldwide, exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic, to eliminate park seating and other amenities, the Times article by novelist Jonathan Lee derides the “hostile architecture” increasingly found in parks, illustrated with an image of an idyllic alternative — amid native plantings in Los Angeles. The photograph of Vista Hermosa Natural Park underscores its inclusion as part of an exhibit this year at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, honoring the park’s chief designer, Studio-MLA.

As Lee writes, a park bench “allows for a sense of solitude and community at the same time,” fostering human connection as it “encourages the art of observation.” In places like Vista Hermosa Natural Park, benches become places of memories: One may sit and observe their child playing a game of soccer, and many years later, watch that child take wedding photos from the very same perch.

Underscoring the park’s value, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland met local officials at Vista Hermosa Park in December to laud the park’s success in reimagining a historic oil well site. Haaland spoke about opportunities through the new infrastructure bill to fund the remediation of more idle oil wells, noting there are 5,000 in California alone.

Located at the western gateway to Downtown Los Angeles, the 10.5-acre Vista Hermosa Park is a project of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), with Studio-MLA as the lead landscape architecture firm, undertaken with a design that boldly returns the serenity and diversity of nature to the Los Angeles urban core. Developed in collaboration with the Los Angeles Unified School District and the City of Los Angeles, Vista Hermosa is the first public park built in this densely populated area in more than a century, as Los Angeles Times wrote. It opened in 2008.

“A successful, popular destination in this neighborhood, Vista Hermosa is a local resource comprising walking trails, streams, meadows, and oak savannahs along with picnic grounds, a nature-themed playground, and welcoming seating and amenities for residents to enjoy,” says Sarah Rascon, environmental equity officer for MRCA. “We are pleased to see this approach recognized and critically acclaimed on the national stage.”

According to Studio-MLA, the landscape architect for Vista Hermosa working with collaborators KPFF Consulting Engineers, ERW Design, and JFAK Architects, this nature park sits on a former brownfield site at the edge of a historically disadvantaged neighborhood, exemplifying sustainable practices and equitable access to nature and recreation. “As the pandemic has reinforced, we see a need for more places of respite and renewal like Vista Hermosa that offer opportunities for playing, relaxing, and learning about our environment and natural history,” says Mia Lehrer, Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and president of Studio-MLA.

Studio-MLA adds that only about 33% of city of Los Angeles residents live within a quarter-mile of a park. In Boston and New York, it is 97% and 91% of residents, respectively.

Nationwide, park space per 1,000 residents averages between six to 10 acres, yet in Los Angeles, residents only have 3.4 acres.

Located at 100 North Toluca Street in Los Angeles only a few blocks from a major freeway interchange, Vista Hermosa Natural Park transports visitors into a setting not unlike what preceded the settling of this city. It also epitomizes the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) mission to preserve, manage and ensure public access to local open space and parkland as well as the wildlife habitat, regional watersheds, and trails throughout the region. The MRCA is a joint powers authority that includes the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a state agency chaired by Irma Muñoz, president of the environmental equity nonprofit, Mujeres de la Tierra.

“Vista Hermosa Park is more than just a beautiful place to look out at the city,” said Joseph T. Edmiston, FAICP, Hon. ASLA, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, upon its opening. “It is a place where visitors can take a deep and restful look back into the natural world.”           MRCA is also one of the lead agencies revitalizing the Los Angeles River and its 

Earlier this year, MRCA and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy earned wide recognition for their award-winning, influential Upper Los Angeles River and Tributaries Revitalization Plan (ULART). Developed with Studio-MLA and TetraTech, ULART creates a comprehensive framework containing 300-plus multipurpose, new and enhanced environmental opportunities accessible to over 625,000 residents and communities adjoining the Upper Los Angeles River and its tributaries.

Walking amidst native Mediterranean vegetation, residents and student naturalists enjoying Vista Hermosa Natural Park will find views to the mountains, a FIFA-regulation soccer field, public programs, and an outdoor amphitheater in a grotto used for interpretive programs led by Community Nature Connection.

They will also find comfortable outdoor furniture in this natural environment, too, offering many ways for visitors to foster human connection and create memories.

About the Sources

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is a State Agency that was established by the Legislature in 1980. Since that time, it has helped preserve more than 75,000 acres of parkland in both wilderness and urban settings. The Conservancy’s mission is to strategically buy back, preserve, protect, restore, and enhance treasured pieces of Southern California to form and interlinking system of urban, rural, and river parks, open space, trails, and wildlife habitat that are easily accessible to the general public.

The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) is a local government public  entity dedicated to the preservation and management of open space and parkland, watershed lands, trails, and wildlife habitat. The MRCA works in cooperation with other government partners to acquire parkland, participate in vital planning processes, provide natural resources and scientific expertise, and complete major park improvement projects. The MRCA manages and provides ranger services and fire protection for almost 75,000 acres of parkland that it owns and that  are owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy or other agencies and provides comprehensive education and interpretation and leadership programs for youth. It is one of the lead agencies revitalizing the Los Angeles River and its tributaries.

Studio-MLA is a design studio that integrates landscape architecture, urban design, and planning to create places that inspire human connection, unite communities, and restore environmental balance. Advocacy is a foundation of Studio-MLA’s practice -- a powerful tool to catalyze ecological and social change with inclusivity and authenticity.