South L.A.'s struggle for more parkland

Dec. 22, 2011, 3:43 p.m.

Undeveloped land along S. Alameda Street.

Los Angeles is looking to toss park-starved communities like South Los Angeles a green lifeline. But the city is working against a legacy of snags. South L.A. is ankle-deep in the worst public land deficit in the city and the sincerity of the city is not without skepticism.

In November, the City Council voted to bring the fight over the South Central Farms plot to a close by going back on a promise to build a public park on the site, paving the way instead for future clothing warehouses.

The loss of the park penetrates deeper in South L.A., where there a few dots of green to break up the spans of concrete and buildings in the neighborhood.

A report issued by the Trust for Public Land, national non-profit aimed at developing public spaces in underserviced areas, found that there were roughly 6.2 acres per every 1,000 people in Los Angeles.
It's even worse if you look at individual communities. A study conducted by the UCLA Institute of Environment and Sustainability in 2006 found that African-American and Latino communities receive .8 and 1.6 acres per 1,000 persons respectively, with South Los Angeles averaging less than half an acre per 1,000 residents.

There’s definite fallout when people don’t have access to public land, said Carolyn Ramsay, Director of the Trust for Public Land’s L.A. River Office, where she works to identify areas for development around the southland.

“[Parks] provide that critical need for community engagement, involvement, and just a common place where Angelenos can identify their cultures and build culture for the city, and identify what the city is,” Ramsay said.

But South LA residents feel like they haven’t been given that option and the few recreational facilities in the area are often overcrowded, lending to a higher chance of illicit activity that mark the facilities as unwelcoming.

Elizabeth Cervantes brought her family to Gilbert Lindsay Park off San Pedro and 41st Place just for that reason.

“I go to this park because it is the only that’s safe that we know. [South Park] is over there but it’s too crowded by people who smoke and all that,” she said. She said that presence of a security guard helps, though the park was still marked by corners of drug use.

When asked what parts of the park appeal to her, a young girl at her side shouted, “Everything!”

There’s a line of youth behind her who share the sentiment. South L.A. has one of the highest numbers of residents younger than 18 but parks are rarely accessible to them. According to the UCLA study, there is less than 1 acre per 1,000 children in South LA

The city is aware of the discrepancy. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa launched his “50 Parks Initiative, aimed at developing smaller pocket parks around under-serviced communities like South Los Angeles.

The hope is to ignite slow churning centers of the city by repainting the land with green space, giving residents the breathing room they need to live.

“Parks can provide for psychological relief from the crush of urban life, but they also beautify the city,” Ramsay said. “They increase property values, not just in the property around them but in the city as a whole.”

The benefits, Ramsay hopes, will begin to dig South L.A. out of its deficit, and in turn give to a community what everyone should have, space.

“Where we are able to open up a park, people are so happy and children are so happy, it’s thrilling. I just wish there were more funds to create more parks in Los Angeles at every level, of every size and shape, but particularly in communities that don’t have them like South Los Angeles,” she said.

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