THE GREATEST WAY TO REVITALIZE BIXBY PARK—GO THEREBy Dave Wielenga
Editor’s Note: Claudia Schou, one of the founders of Friends of Bixby Park, was a featured guest on the Feb. 1, 2012, edition of Greater Long Beach Radio. To listen to the interview any time, click here.
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The process of renovating Bixby Park can sometimes feel like an eternal purchase order, a manifest for various elements of infrastructure rendered forever out of reach by a changing wish list and an unwinnable race between fundraising and price increases.
Meanwhile, progress toward revitalizing the 105-year-old community space is evident all over its 16.7 acres, not to mention the calendar, which seems to get marked up with the details of some new event almost every day. The just-concluded weekend provided some especially good examples—on Saturday, when the first Art Under Umbrellas exhibition debuted, and on Sunday, when the Poly Jazz Combo continued its Free Jazz in the Park series. And since last month, every Tuesday features a Farmer’s Market from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Art Under The Umbrellas was a one-off event, for now. But creating an environment for local artists to present their work for sale further reopens the possibilities for Bixby Park, which was once perhaps Long Beach’s most-esteemed public place. But the changing makeup of neighborhoods to the west and north of the park—predominantly white and middle class people moving out, a mostly poor mix of ethnically and linguistically diverse people moving in—not only deprived Bixby Park of its influence but even of the ability to speak with one voice.
The work of Friends of Bixby Park during the past few years has given the place a new voice and growing status, not to mention lots of small but continuous improvement and a fund-raising pot of about $80,000 toward a makeover that’s currently estimated to cost $200,000.
But events like Art Under the Umbrellas, the Sunday jazz series and the Tuesday farmer’s market aren’t measured best with a ledger. Revitalizing Bixby Park doesn’t depend on finding the money for a state-of-the-art sandbox, and restoring its role as Long Beach’s village green won’t be accomplished by city council decree. For them, success often comes down to a head count, people’s daily, personal answer to this question: Want to go to the park?
When people are in Bixby Park, the place is vital. When they are there a lot, Bixby Park becomes a town square. When they get to know one another, Bixby Park has a constituency. And when that happens, just watch how fast Bixby Park gets that super-duper sandbox.