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Healthy Parks, Healthy People L.A.

Baldwin Hills Park

People, Wildlife, Places, and Values

Healthy Parks, Healthy People L.A. gets people active and healthy through parks, schools, museums, and health centers. Diverse allies are working on people, wildlife, places, and values in targeted areas. Lessons here can benefit communities elsewhere.

HPHPLA benefits people who live, learn, work, play, and pray in targeted areas by improving their natural, health, and cultural environments. People should feel they belong in parks, school fields, museums, and health centers, and these resources belong to them. The message is this: Visit a park, school, museum, or health center. Have fun. Learn about people, wildlife, places, and values. Be healthy. Get a job. Become a steward for the Earth and her people.

Baldwin Hills Park mural on equality for all honors the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The People

HPHPLA promotes equal access for all. This includes communities who are disproportionately health vulnerable and park poor, income poor, or of color.

The Baldwin Hills Parklands include the historic heart of African American L.A., and the largest urban park designed in the US in over a century. Baldwin Hills Park is bigger than Central Park and Golden Gate Park.

The Baldwin Hills are the history of the struggle for equal opportunity. Native Americans lived there first. The history as a Spanish land grant rancho is reflected in the “Dons” neighborhood, with streets named after Spanish dons. African Americans moved there after the US Supreme Court upheld the right to equal housing opportunity in the 1950s. While active oil fields have deterred development, fossil fuels impact health, climate, pollution, congestion, and seismic risks. Residents worked with the US Environmental Protection Agency and others to create clean water justice and blue/green projects, including Civil Rights Park.

Ballona Creek flows 13 miles from Baldwin Hills to the Pacific Ocean past parks, schools, and affordable housing at Mar Vista Gardens. The Ballona Wetlands include a Sacred Site, ancient village, and burial ground of the Tongva/Gabrieleño Native American people.

Watts, one of the most iconic neighborhoods in L.A., reflects the changing face of the city and county. Watts has evolved from a diverse working class to African American to increasingly Latino community. Cultural and health resources include Watts Towers, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine & Science, and Compton Creek. Gang members agreed to the historic Watts Peace Truce calling for urban reconstruction including parks and recreation in 1992, 30 years after the riots and rebellion in 1964. “Give us the hammer and the nails, we will rebuild the city.”

Culture, history, and art are central to human environment. The exhibition South of Pico celebrates African American art. PST LA / LA celebrates Latin American and Latino Art in L.A. The Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum recognizes culture, history, and art are inextricably connected with social justice and the environment.

People are guarding against green displacement and gentrification. As communities become greener, more desirable, and more expensive, people who fought epic battles to improve their quality of life face the risk they can no longer afford to live or even work nearby.

“I had in mind to do something big, and I did it.” Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant, built Watts Towers with neighborhood children. The City Project helped the community save Watts Towers.

Allies and Supporters

The growing list of allies and supporters includes:

  • The City Project
  • Charles R. Drew University of Medicine & Science, in Watts
  • L.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation
  • L.A. County Department of Public Health
  • Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, in Washington, D.C.
  • Santa Fe Art Institute
  • NEEF (National Environmental Education Foundation), a non-profit chartered by Congress, in Washington, D.C.
  • NRPA Parks & Recreation Magazine

and more.

Take Action Comics Samuel Garcia Stanford ’18


L.A. county voters taxed themselves to provide $90 million per year forever for park and water resources. Hundreds of millions more are available. We have a vision for healthy living in the parklands for all, and the resources to make the dream come true.

Outcomes include:

  • Focus on people, wildlife, places, and values.
  • Embrace values including fun; healthy, active living; climate and conservation; culture, history, and art; economic vitality; equal justice; and just democracy.
  • Use “Fun in the Park,” transit to parks, and museum programs as organizing tools to meet people where they are..
  • Provide interactive park and health programs, such as Rx for Parks.
  • Promote youth, grassroots, and local leadership.
  • Engage health professionals and students in concrete projects on community health equity.
  • Apply an equity framework to social determinants of health, as the National Academies recommend.
  • Implement lessons learned county wide and beyond.
  • Provide best practices for parks, recreation, schools, museums, and health centers.

Santa Fe Art Institute Equal Justice Residency 2017-18. Imagine a more equitable world.


L.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation, Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment (2016)

L.A. County Department of Public Health, Parks and Public Health in Los Angeles County (2016)

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, committee report, Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity (2017)

Cynthia Gonzalez, MPH, PhD; David Martins, MD, MS; Brian Cole, DrPh, Robert García, JD, Pathways to Achieving Health Equity, CDU & UCLA Medical Schools, Course & Syllabus (2017)

Loyola Marymount University, The Value of Urban Parklands: A User Study of the Baldwin Hills (2017)

Tim Mok, An Alternative Paradigm to Revitalization of the Lower Los Angeles River: A Maywood Story (Master’s Thesis, M.S. Regenerative Studies, Cal Poly Pomona, College of Environmental Design 2017) and blog

Robert García and Seth Strongin, Healthy Parks, Schools and Communities: Green Access and Equity for Southern California, The City Project Policy Report (2011)

Robert García and Ramya Sivasubramanian, Environmental Justice for All: Struggle in Baldwin Hills and South Central Los Angeles,
Clearinghouse Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy (Nov/Dec 2012)

Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, Robert García, Elise Meerkatz and Seth Strongin, Keeping the Baldwin Hills Clean and Green for Generations to Come, Policy Report (Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles and The City Project 2010)

Social Justice, Art, and the Environment . . . Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, Rosalia Torres-Weiner, Gateways/Portales mural (2016)

“Fun in the Park” events use fun and recreation to bring people together. Anahuak Youth Sports Association, The City Project, NEEF, National Parks Service, California State Parks, GreenLatinos, OneJustice, CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico), San Gabriel Mountains Forever / Nature for All!, L.A. County Department of Public Health, and LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens), and others work together on National Public Lands Day.

This work is made possible in part by the generous support of Union Bank Foundation, Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, and others.

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