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Submission: UCLA should revive green spaces on campus

By Nate Holmes

Oct. 8, 2014 2:14 a.m.

The conventional view is that the UCLA campus goes into sleep mode during the summer, and that the weeks of late September bear witness to the rebirth of life on campus.

But in one key respect, the opposite phenomenon occurs: throughout the summer, the grass fields in front of Royce Hall and below Janss steps are alive with children playing Capture the Flag and other games during their day camps. With the arrival of fall, the fields return to their nine-month slumber, in which the grass exists as an aesthetic afterthought – admired and occasionally lounged upon, but never used to its full potential.

In this respect, the UCLA campus bears resemblance to a suburban office park – gorgeous green lawns exist for people to look at as they walk to class, and offer little more. Rarely does one see people tossing a Frisbee disc, playing badminton or doing much of anything other than sitting.

Given the fantastic weather in Los Angeles, this is a shame. A better approach would be to actively encourage students to step outside of a computer lab and play a small game of pick-up soccer, take a yoga class or play the guitar.

UCLA already recognizes that libraries are not strictly for studying, but places for people to socialize and even drink and eat at a cafe. If students can only exercise, relax and socialize in formal places for such activity like the John Wooden Center or Ackerman Union, then we diminish much of what makes a college campus such a terrific place to be.

On that note, here are three suggestions for shifting how we use open space at UCLA.

First, place movable chairs on grass lawns. We can look at the bright pink chairs in Downtown’s Grand Park for inspiration. These attractive chairs can be moved with the sun so a solitary reader can find a spot in the shade, or groups of different sizes can form circles. Perhaps an impromptu musical performance or play might occur. Put 20 sturdy, yet comfortable chairs on each grass lawn and see what happens.

Second, bring more artistic activity to plazas and open spaces. The Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden at the northern tip of campus provides a good example of this untapped potential. Despite the fact that UCLA is located in one of the most artistically vibrant cities in the world, our sculpture garden is peaceful yet largely sterile. A revolving cast of intimate concerts, small theatrical plays and unconventional art exhibits would do wonders to invigorate this spot, but even the simple act of adding more tables and seating – preferably with umbrellas – would send the message that the statues do not monopolize this space.

Third, make the Bruin Plaza a place to be. Bruin Plaza is the heart of the UCLA campus, and yet it currently functions like a highway interchange – it is a space to move through, but not a place to linger. The success of the Bruin Plaza space should not be measured by how easily people move through it but by how frequently people see a friend or colleague and stop to chat. Though the architects on campus may have more ambitious ideas for reconfiguring the space, perhaps the simplest way to improve Bruin Plaza would be to provide ample tables and seating outside all of the adjacent buildings.

Some of these suggestions do require university officials to explicitly facilitate more play and leisure in the open spaces on campus, but in general, such efforts are not necessary – all the university needs to do is use the presence of seating to send the signal that these spaces are welcoming to people. Do this, and the Frisbee discs and guitars will follow. But if we continue to relegate our experience of play, culture and leisure to set times either inside buildings and at out-of-the-way locations, we not only limit the potential of our surroundings – we also limit ourselves.

Holmes is a graduate student in urban and regional planning at the Luskin School of Public Affairs.

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