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Saving Cornfield Park, An Urban Oasis

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Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

By: King Anyi Howell

The new California budget includes more than 14 million dollars of cuts to state parks. Although an official list of the parks to be closed won't be available until after Labor Day, an initial list by the California State Parks included a park in urban Los Angeles. It's called Los Angeles State Historic Park, but all the locals know it as The Cornfield.

The beauty of Cornfield Park is subtle. Like a big grassy back yard. Tucked in between the 110 freeway, the Metro Gold railway, and industrial warehouses, it may not sound like much, but Cornfield is an oasis. It's what I call a "chill spot" somewhere you go and let time slip away from you in peace. Recently, I found a few power outlets in the ground and chilled there on my laptop just enjoying the view that I rarely get to see, unless I'm sitting in traffic.

"You can't compare it to our great desert and redwood parks," says Rick Rayburn of the California State Parks service. "But certainly it will be one of those great urban parks that many of us have seen across the country."

How's this for great? Cornfield Park (officially named Los Angeles State Historic Park) was the first site where a water wheel brought running water to the Pueblo of Los Angeles in the 1800's, even before William Mulholland designed the LA aqueduct. And as for the name...

"There was never any corn growing there," according to Alicia Brown, local historian and resident. "The farmers would bring in their carts to pick up the vegetables to take them to el pueblo because that was the marketplace. That was the big hub of activity. And the wagons would carry corn. Corn was very popular. So they just called it the corn field. It was sort of like a nickname you have for a community. And it stuck."

For decades, the space was just an empty field used by the Metro train yard and was almost converted into industrial warehouses until the scrappy land was transformed by a community art project led by artist Lauren Bon.

"Her activating the space with her artwork really engaged the community, and opened this land to heal itself with the community's involvement," says Meredith Heckleman, a grower at Farmlab, the organization that has continued Bon's work of restoring the toxic soil, planting the seeds, sewing the cornfield, and feeding a handful of goats. The flowers that bloom in the spring are a symphony of colors in an area typically surrounded by weeds, buildings and cars.

As families sit on the hill and enjoy what may be the final days of their access to this space, Park Ranger Thomas Carroll compares the skulls of some wildlife.

"So tonight, for our campfire, we're going to learn how animals adapt to their environment."
If Cornfield closes, families would have to search elsewhere for greenspace in a park poor city. Families like the Rogers.

"I live in an apartment. So this is one reason why we come out here. Because we don't have a yard," says Rosalia Rogers. "This is the best place for the kids. It's a good place to walk, it's a good place to bring the dog and the kids and it's safe and it's a nice place. Plus it has a lot of history, so I couldn't see myself going anywhere else."

After spending a few weeks there, I can understand why Mrs. Rogers feels this way. I had a hard time leaving the park when it closed at sunset one night, revealing its fantastic nighttime view of the skyline.

As I chilled, though, I couldn't help thinking about a future where street traffic serves as a playground, rodents are referred to as "wildlife" and old folks, like me, will walk around asking other old folks: "Remember Parks?"

Youth Radio/Youth Media International (YMI) is youth-driven converged media production company that delivers the best youth news, culture and undiscovered talent to a cross section of audiences. To read more youth news from around the globe and explore high quality audio and video features, visit Youthradio.org

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