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Monday, Jun 17, 2024

Grit Park

Jerry Sullivan

The only thing great about the Great Park in Irvine at this point is the ambition behind the project.

And the only thing super about the Great Park’s recent poetry reading on Super Bowl Sunday was the audacity of such an effort.

That might read like a sweeping indictment of the Great Park’s chances of becoming a civic treasure.

The place isn’t much more than a relatively small section of a giant patch of old military land anchored by a Sunday farmers market and balloon rides—and the latter has led to more than one pun about hot air.

Keep reading.

The Great Park might not even be near great at this point. But it’s got a chance because it’s got grit.

There’s no other way to explain the steadfast—or stubborn?—nature of promoters who pitted a couple of earnest poets against the most marketed spectacle of the year.

Yet the promoters at the nonprofit Orange County Great Park Corp. did better than Pittsburgh Steelers fans on Super Bowl Sunday. They won their bet on the poets, who attracted a small but interested crowd ranging from a mother with infant to thirty-something singles and intently interested retirees.

The small crowd showed appreciation for the work of the poets, who were presented by Anaheim-based Moontide Press. Some stopped to listen to the poetry after strolling around the farmers market.

Others had been to the demonstration garden staffed by volunteers from Master Gardeners of Orange County.

A few had been listening to guitarist Rod Frias, a radio personality from KSBR/88.5 FM in Mission Viejo who sang for diners near a group of food trucks that trundled in for the day.

The scene worked. The poetry was meaningful and the poets were generous with their time and effort. Folks had fun—and some of them learned a thing or two.

The day was all the more pleasant because it was an unapologetic, irony-free case of community engagement. What’s not to like about intellectual stimulation, decent food, nice music, an interesting garden, the lure of a giant balloon and plenty of fresh produce on sale?

Top that off with a pleasant crowd and lots of little kids in the mix—and cliche-perfect weather on a February afternoon—and you can see where grit has a chance to grow into a truly great park.

None of this erases the facts on the ground. This all played out on a small patch of land amid 4,700 acres strewn with overgrown brush and old buildings from its days as the El Toro Marine base.

The Great Park envisioned by developers, politicians and an assortment of civic types eventually would expand to cover 200 of those acres in coming years and more than 1,000 in a longer stretch. Housing and commercial development is expected to fill much of the rest of the space around the park.

The plan has been a struggle since the moment the federal government decided it would cede the base to local control. First came a battle over a proposed airport. Then the notion of the Great Park, followed by an historic recession, a shakeup of potential developers and a state budget deficit that could threaten key funding.

Little wonder that constant political sniping has been part of the mix.

That doesn’t sound so great, I admit.

Just remember this: Great is never very far from grit—even at a farmers market in Irvine on Super Bowl Sunday.

Sullivan is managing editor of the Business Journal.

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