Parlor Park

The Community Living Room project turns grim scraps of public land into outdoor "living rooms."

Rather than fence off the trash-strewn lot beside its building-a stomping ground for drug-users and prostitutes-one downtown Los Angeles community center added, instead, a few benches and flowers. Soon, neighbors began to hang out there, and the less desirable denizens vanished.By beautifying the lot, the center transformed its use, and herein lies the vision of the Community Living Room project, run by the Los Angeles-based nonprofit group Verde Coalition: turn grim scraps of public land-like bus stops, traffic medians, or dangerous street corners-into welcoming public spaces. In Los Angeles, where many low-income communities enjoy almost no park space, a new "living room" cheaply and quickly creates a mini-sanctuary from the fast-paced and sometimes ugly reality of the city. Twelve community "living rooms" have been constructed so far, and the mayor's office may soon help fund 1,000 more across the city, making Los Angeles more habitable-two benches at a time.