LOS ANGELES — From picking grapes off a vine to searching for great blue herons on the LA River, parks around the city offer many surprises and Teena Apeles and Andrea Richards don’t take any of them for granted.
“I think parks were one of the most important things we turned to during this last year,” Apeles said, standing next to the bike path on the edge of Lewis McAdams Riverfront Park. "And who has parks like this? It’s just incredible!”
Which is why the women decided to celebrate the diversity of LA’s green spaces with a new coloring book. It’s called "We Heart LA Parks," because, well, they heart LA parks.
“The entire city has this tremendous resource of parks that we want to help people to access,” Richards added. “We want more people to find them and more people to hang out in them.”
Walking along a path, they passed a couple lying on a blanket, the sounds of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” streaming from the speaker next to them.
“This is what I’m talking about,” Apeles beamed, clutching her hand to her heart. “A little Tears for Fears love on the picnic blanket.”
The women definitely have their favorite go-to parks but also know there are hidden gems all over the city — small neighborhood parks, with playgrounds or community gardens, parks that aren’t as famous as Griffith Park but are essential to the communities around them.
To fill their knowledge gap — and the pages of the book — the co-editors reached out to their creative collective called Narrated Objects, and asked people to draw scenes from their favorite parks. The book highlights 52 of them, featuring the works of artists from ages 8 to 87, including Jennifer Cuellar, who met the ladies at Everett Triangle Park to take in the view that inspired the cover.
“What a great little oasis,” Richards said as she stepped out of the car.
It’s a very small neighborhood park that is special to Cuellar and her girlfriend. “This park is actually where we hung out when we first met,” she confided in her editors for the first time. In fact, they are the couple depicted sitting on a blanket.
“You didn’t mention that in your caption!” Richards teased her.
Wearing the Converse sneakers that grace the cover, Cuellar sits in the grass, holding the book as she recreates the tableau. “It’s kind of surreal,” she laughed. “I’ve actually not done this before so it’s really cool!”
What she hearts about LA parks is their accessibility.
“I just love that these are spaces that are available to everyone,” Cuellar explained. “Anyone can come visit anytime they want and enjoy.”
Like the different neighborhoods they exist in, parks have personalities and serve different purposes. Bird watching and biking, parks for picnicking and relaxing.
The book is also multi-use. It’s not just a coloring book, Richards admitted. “We like to sneak in some other stuff.”
There are maps and mass transit directions to inspire readers to check out parks outside their neighborhood. Each entry is also paired with personal stories from the artists. But what Apeles was particularly passionate about was highlighting the origin stories, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust.
“Parks don’t just appear,” she explained. “We make them happen. So you’ll read a lot of activism in the book. People like elementary school kids who made parks happen. Neighborhood activists.”
Throughout the process, Apeles and Richards learned a lot about parks they never knew existed. They were already appreciative of open spaces but they can honestly say they heart LA parks now more than ever.
“I personally love that we live in this huge metropolis and within minutes you can get somewhere where there’s no one,” Richards said, adding, “Anything you want to do you can do in a park!”
And while parks are the focus of the book, “at the heart of it, it’s all about Los Angeles,” Apeles said. “And what the city is in its complex magnificence.”
It's a love letter to the city and the spots where we can take a break from its urban landscape.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled Jennifer Cuellar’s name. It has since been corrected. (July 22, 2021)