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HEALTHY PARKS, SCHOOLS, AND COMMUNITIES: GREEN ACCESS AND EQUITY FOR THE LOS ANGELES REGION

NEWSLETTER FALL 2006

The City Project (The City Project) supports a collective vision for a comprehensive and coherent web of parks, schools, beaches, forests, and transportation that promotes human health, a better environment, and economic vitality for all, and reflects the cultural diversity of Los Angeles.

Healthy Parks, Schools, and Communities: Green Access and Equity for the Los Angeles Region
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joins Councilman Ed Reyes and The City Project’s Executive Director Robert García to call for urban park funding.

Los Angeles is park poor, and there are unfair park, school, and health disparities.  Children of color disproportionately live in communities of concentrated poverty without places to play and recreate in parks, school yards, and playing fields, with no cars or an adequate transit system to reach those places.  The human health implications of the lack of places to play and recreate are profound.  These children disproportionately suffer from obesity, diabetes, and other diseases related to inactivity.

City Controller Laura Chick recently published three audits providing a blueprint for reform of the Department of Recreation and Parks, highlighting the need for: a strategic plan to improve park services in every neighborhood, and alleviate inequities in parks and recreation; standards to measure equity and progress in achieving reform; a fair system of park financing and recreation fees; a community needs assessment now and every five years; improved public safety; and shared use of parks and schools to make optimal use of scarce land and public resources.

In 1930, the firm started by the sons of Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted proposed a network of parks, schools, rivers, beaches, forests, and transportation to promote the social, economic, and environmental vitality of the Los Angeles region and the health of its people.  According to the Olmsted Report in words that remain true today:

Continued prosperity will depend on providing needed parks, because, with the growth of a great metropolis here, the absence of parks will make living conditions less and less attractive, less and less wholesome. . . .  In so far, therefore, as the people fail to show the understanding, courage, and organizing ability necessary at this crisis, the growth of the Region will tend to strangle itself.

Implementing the Olmsted plan would have made Los Angeles one of the most beautiful and livable regions in the world.  Powerful private interests and civic leaders demonstrated a tragic lack of vision and judgment when they killed the Olmsted Report.  Politics, bureaucracy, and greed overwhelmed the public interest in a triumph of private power over public space and social justice.

We have the opportunity to restore a part of that vision and the lost beauty of Los Angeles (maps 101 and 104).  (Maps and Charts are available at www.cityprojectca.org.)

Today, children of color living in poverty with no access to cars have the worst access to parks and recreation (map 201).  Many people live more than half a mile from the nearest park throughout the Los Angeles region (map 202).

Children of color disproportionately live in the state assembly districts with the highest levels of child obesity and the worst access to parks, and schools with five acres or more of playing fields.  The levels of obesity are intolerably high for all children throughout the region — ranging from 23% to 40% (map 601).  Fully 87% of the children in LAUSD public schools are not physically fit.

There are unfair disparities in access to parks and recreation by City Council District. Thus, for example, inner city District 10 (Wesson) has only .35 net acres of urban parks per thousand residents, compared to 15.86 net acres in District 12.  The disparities are even more dramatic if total acres of parks including forests and other large natural open spaces are included, as illustrated by the City Council maps (216 and 217), chart (217C), and graph (217N).  For example, there are .43 acres of total parks per thousand residents in inner city District 10, and 57.68 in District 11.

The shared use of parks and schools can alleviate the lack of places to play and recreate, while making optimal use of scarce land and public resources — as called for in the Controller’s audits, and in the Olmsted plan.  This is demonstrated by the map of parks and schools with five acres or more of playing fields (map 502).  Unfortunately, schools with five acres or more of playing fields tend to be located in communities that are disproportionately white and wealthy and have greater access to parks (maps 224, 225, and 502, chart 225C).

The urban park movement, the greening of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers, and the Integrated Resources Water Management plans, offer the opportunity to revitalize urban communities with economic, environmental, and equitable development for all.

The lack of places to play and recreate in parks and schools is not just an issue for low-income communities of color, but indeed for all of Los Angeles, from the San Fernando Valley to San Pedro, and from the Palisades to East L.A.  Los Angeles faces an historic opportunity to improve the quality of life enjoyed by all residents for generations to come by improving access to parks and recreation for all.

Urban parks, natural open space, and related human health issues are a critical component of any local, regional, and state infrastructure plan for livable, just communities.  The City must develop long term, sustainable funding to support parks and recreation.  One immediate step is for the Mayor and City Council to support significant and substantial funding for urban parks in any proposed state infrastructure bonds in 2006 and beyond (see accompanying story).

The City Project is committed to systemic reform of recreation and parks through a democratic process that includes full and fair public information and public participation in deciding the future of the region for generations to come.  The City Project is focusing on several avenues: implementing the Controller’s recommendations; shared use of new and existing parks and schools; keeping existing public lands open for all; promoting human health in parks and schools; and providing access to forests, beaches, parks, and open space through Transit to Trails for Southern California.