When it comes to park space, not all is created equal in Long Beach: the disparities between the accessible and not accessible fall disproportionately on two areas of Long Beach—West and North Long Beach—with North Long Beach receiving the largest brunt of that not-so-great distinction. And that is precisely why the 51st Street Greenbelt project is such an important project for the neighborhood that surrounds it.
Though the city has impressively expanded its park access over the past five years—with 84% of the city’s residents being within a ten-minute walk of a space, a nearly 5% increase in access over three years alone according to the Trust for Public Land—our overall ranking across the nation has dropped significantly across the pandemic as we have yet to create any new park space and solely depend on existing space.
Of the 31,066 acres of land within our city limits, 3,123 acres are dedicated to parks—a number that has not changed in years.
That is, until the 51st Street Greenbelt is actually formed.
So what is, exactly, the 51st Street Greenbelt in North Long Beach?
The 51st Street Greenbelt is a proposed park project by the City of Long Beach—designed and led by local firm City Fabrick—that will transform an acre of undeveloped land along the eastside of the Los Angeles River into what they call a riparian ecosystem, or the interface between land and a directly connected river. In this case, the parcel and the L.A. River where DeForest Avenue runs between 51st and 52 Streets in North Long Beach.
“It’s technically designated as public right-of-way and street,” said Charlene Angsuco, a project management officer with the City’s Public Works Department. “If you look across house maps, DeForest Avenue in this area is some 100 feet wide.”
What is now largely a fenced-in dirt plot will soon become accessible open green space for multigenerational use in a community that is one of the most park-poor in the city—all along an acre stretch of land that will include carbon sequestering trees, native plants, bioswales for stormwater, and a 1350-linear foot walking trail that will be lit at night for students students at Perry Lindsey Middle School or Dooley Elementary walking home or to experience the park after school.
Even more, when it comes to biking, the greenbelt will be a key connector for bicyclists and pedestrians that use the L.A. River path and Daisy Lane Bike Boulevard, the park providing direct connections to each. This project will connect a key transition point for bicycles and pedestrians to access the LA River Bike Path and the Daisy Lane Bike Boulevard.
“There’s also some mounding elements to give the space a little more variety and some elevation,” Angsuco said. “And these are just elements of the park itself. We’re hoping that, as this project gets off the ground, we can find funding to also repave DeForest Avenue.”
The $5.4M project was funded through multiple facets: A $999,000 grant from the Port of Long Beach for engineering and designing the project; $2M from Congresswoman Nanette Barragán; $2M from the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy; and $400,000 in Measure 8 funds.
“With that funding coming in so steadily, we were able to combine what was initially going to be two phases of construction into one,” Angsuco said.
Rainwater retention is a huge factor for the 51st Street Greenbelt
Rainwater will be sustainably harvested by a rocky bioswale running the length of the park, gathering and conveying stormwater runoff alongside a permeable pedestrian walkway that connects the neighborhood to the traffic garden, park interior, and wetlands beyond.
“We incorporated two mature trees into the plan,” said Mina Emamifar Roades, Director of Landscape Architecture for City Fabrick. “The design will allow the park to harvest, manage, and infiltrate 45% of the runoff from the site and adjacent streets.”
The slope from the park’s west side will transport the runoff to the rainwater harvesting amenities along the east edge. The bioswale is filled with bioretention and low-impact development(LID) plants. These drought-resistant plants form a sponge to soak up excess rainwater and help to filter pollutants.
“This improved rainfall retention can reduce annual runoff from seven to five inches, according to the US EPA Stormwater calculator,” Roades said.
The 51st Street Greenbelt in North Long Beach has always been a project led by the community
“There was a concept proposed before the pandemic about how to utilize this strip of land,” Angsuco said. “And it was proposed to shift that piece of land into a linear park, a greenbelt which would mirror all the other greenbelts that are under the way along the L.A. River. This is just one of those segments.”
Angsuco goes onto say that it was a heavy lift by the community to push forward for this, “especially for walking loops and a cycle track.”
That cycle track is particularly cool—especially for the little ones: The track has been designed to teach kids how to bicycle properly, balancing on two wheels and learning how to deal with curves.
Despite the heavy community involvement, however, there was no formal organization leading it—like, say, a Friends of Bixby Park-type community group that coalesces behind green spaces in their neighborhoods. Hopefully, the creation of the park itself will act as an “impetus for the community to coalesce for stewardship and volunteerism at the greenbelt,” Angsuco said.
The 51st Street Greenbelt will be located on DeForest Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets.