No doubt I’m the last cat who should be writing about public space. I mean here at home in Los Angeles I rarely think about public space and congregating in same. That is, I do congregate occasionally, I just don’t go out of my way to do it. Because mostly I’m in my car going to and fro – and when I get to my destination, it’s rarely to a park. I have nothing against open spaces, I like open spaces and certainly L.A., particularly our urban areas of the city, that are green poor – though this is not the only way in which gathering spaces are manifested in this city.
Lord knows people have meetings, write screenplays or work on the Great American Novel on their laptops (or playing World of Warcraft with who knows who all else online) at many a Starbuck’s or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in this considerable town. Maybe somebody has tracked this, but I’ve yet to see or hear about a sinewy barrista kicking somebody out for staying too long in their coffee shop. But then, it seems these folks now and then buy a coffee, frappachino and/or bottle of water to keep the static down.
My gym, which the lovely and talented Dr. Pop pays for – as one has to have perks in this line of work – is an L.A. Fitness housed in a former Montgomery Ward department store in a mall on La Cienega near the 10 Freeway. Okay, so already it’s not a public space, but bear with me a moment. Given this is ethnically rich L.A. and the geography of where the gym is (located in between several distinct neighborhoods), this facility gets a cross section of its inhabitants from young sleek-muscled tatted ballers wearing just the right shoes for their hops to, what I presume to be, orthodox Jewish woman in sweat gear that includes long stretch skirts, sweat pants under that and coverings for their head. Admittedly, you don’t generally find representatives of these two groups awaiting their respective turns at the preacher curl machine, gabbing about the latest episode of Rookie Blue.
But there are people I’ve met at the gym who I wouldn’t have encountered elsewhere. We do converse, albeit briefly, as we stop and chat with each other during our workouts. One guy, Paul, I used to run into at the local Von’s, and another dude, a gym rat named Mike who works to daily, befriended me on Facebook. On the gym’s enclosed basketball court, various sorts of dudes have met up in pick-up games, and there is conversing in the locker room afterward on matters more than blocked shots. You know, guy bonding.
The L.A. Parks and Recreation Department oversees the Muscle Beach “pit” in Venice and access to the weights is free. Though this is primarily a self-selecting crowd of body builders, could be there’s some lessons the groups (who are examples, the Neighborhood Land Trust?) putting together public and private monies to create mini Green Acres could learn from the gym model.
It’s not too hard to imagine proscribed areas designed to foster community engagement where you could have anchored benches and seats, small built-in block tables for chess or domino games, a book booth like what’s been done in Huntington Park where books can be left and obtained for free, and a donated weight machine or two. To let people know this is a gathering space for all, there could be scheduled times when writers and poets would be around to do a reading from their work to help generate interest.
Now I’d show up for something like that.