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Paradise Built on a Parking Lot

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country. The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.

Santa Monica, CA
Built on the site previously occupied by the RAND Corporation’s headquarters and more recently a surface parking lot, Tongva Park and Ken Genser Square (once collectively known as the Civic Center Parks) encompass 7 acres in the heart of Santa Monica. The completion of these parks represents the first step toward completing a plan for the 67-acre civic center area, which re-envisioned the area as a vibrant neighborhood with improved linkages to the Santa Monica Pier, Palisades Park, downtown Santa Monica and Santa Monica State Beach. 

TVP1Tongva Park, which was named after the indigenous people who have lived in the Los Angeles area for thousands of years, boasts hundreds of trees, a playground, public art, water features, and observation decks that offer views of the Pacific Ocean. With seven different entrances, the park is very open and integrates seamlessly into the fabric of the surrounding area. Designed by James Corner’s Field Operations landscape architecture firm (best known for their work on the elevated High Line), the design is meant to recall the Southern California arroyo landscape of washes and ravines. With dramatic rising and falling topography the park is organized into four thematic hills, providing different experiences for visitors. The naturalistic feel of the park even extends to the restrooms, which are tucked into a large hill and feature an open layout with generous entrances and a large open skylight providing natural ventilation.

TVP2The arroyo theme continues through the 1-acre Ken Genser Square, which is located in front of the landmark City Hall and is named in honor of a long-serving Councilmember and Mayor of Santa Monica. Though much smaller and more formal than its neighbor, the new plaza is more than just a space to pass through when going to City Hall for permits and business licenses; seating areas and a water feature make it a great place to sit and have lunch or to enjoy the sunshine.

Although the parks have only been open for a few months, they have already enriched the community significantly and become a magnet for visitors from outside the neighborhood who come to enjoy the quiet spaces, walking trails, and inclusive play areas. If Tongva Park and Ken Genser Square are any indication, the Civic Center Plan is sure to be a success.

To learn more about Tongva Park and Ken Genser Square, please visit:

Santa Monica Civic Center Parks

The “Frontline Parks” program is made possible with generous support from DuMor, Inc. and PlayCore.

One Response

  1. […] Paradise Built on a Parking Lot […]

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