Park Equity Symposium: Opening Remarks

Park Equity Symposium: Opening Remarks


>My name is Raphael Bostic, I am a professor here in the Price School of Public Policy and the Director of the Bedrosian Center on Governance in the Public Enterprise. And is with great pleasure that I, welcome you to this event and to our campus. For me, equity is one the most important things you can think about as a policy issue and it’s something that I’ve spent a lot of my time, professionally working on, in terms of research, as well as policy, both here and in Washington DC. And I’m really pleased to be able to have our center support efforts to improve the notion of equity and people’s experience with equity across the country. Though, it’s really funny. How many… have all of you been on campus before? You’ve all been here. Have you been to Price? The Price School? Well, I’m surprised that as many of you have been here as I have, but not surprised as many of you have not been to the School. When I got to USC 13 years ago, the notion that USC would be out in front on these issues. It was something that everyone said is impossible. And it’s not going to happen, USC doesn’t care about these things. They’re fairly silent on this. And in the time I’ve been here, we’ve seen a significant transformation, both in the university level and at the school level around issues of community, equity in the universities and involvement and engagement with that. And so, I’m really pleased that we can continue that. And hopefully, by the end of today, you will leave with a notion and a sense that USC really does care about these things. This is true at the university level, at the school level as well, we have a number of researchers who are working on issues around food equity, around open space, around issues of housing and security. All of these issues are critical and important. And our school approaches it, really, from a multidimensional and multidisciplinary perspective. We have planners, we have public management, I’m an economist to those housing and finance stuff. We have experts in administration, in health care policy. And we really do try to approach this from a holistic perspective. Because as you all know, if you only move the dial on one aspect and everything else stays chaotic, people’s quality of life doesn’t change appreciably. So, we’ve got to deal with this and attack the problem from a multidimensional perspective and that’s what we do at Price. I’m also really pleased to have the Bedrosian Center out in front of this. Because the Bedrosian Center is a center that’s focus on governance and the public enterprise is in our title. But really, what that means is that we’re focused on the doing of policy, as opposed to the talking about or designing policy. And that’s what this conference is about. It’s really about doing things and making measurable and observable change on the ground for people and neighborhoods across the city. And that’s incredibly important and something that I’m really pleased to have our center in USC associated with. So I’m really excited, it’s a great program. The speakers have tremendous experience around all the aspects of Open Space equity and parks. And how we do that in places that haven’t historically, seen that kind of energy and effort. And I’m hopeful that at the end, you will leave energized, with insights and a deeper understanding about how you can make change in the places that you want to make change. So, that we see an improved quality of life for everyone in the city and not just those that have the most. So, thank you all for coming. Thank you guys for letting us be a part of this and I hope you have a great day. So, thank you!>Thank you, Dr. Bostic, for that very warm welcome. This is indeed a wonderful space and we’re happy to be here. I know it will be the foundation for a great discussion on this very important symposium on Park Inequities and Park Equity in Los Angeles. My name is Manal Aboelata, I serve on the board of directors of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust. And on behalf of the Land Trust, I want to welcome all of you here today. I know that it is a real investment of your time and your energy to spend the day with us and we value your commitment and engagement on this critical issue of Park Equity. I’d also like to welcome and acknowledge, by name, local and state representatives who have joined us here today because of their deep commitment to achieving equitable access to Park Equity in Los Angeles and across the state. If you wouldn’t mind, I’ll ask you to please stand and be acknowledged as I call your name briefly: Marta Segura, Los Angeles City Planning Commissioner. Welcome! Ernest Chang, Chair of the California State Park and Recreation Commission. Elva Yanez, California State Park and Recreation Commissioner. Renee Dake Wilson, President LA City Planning Commission. Welcome to you all and thank you for being here, as well. As moderator for today’s forum, my job is to help us move through the day’s agenda. I’ll be introducing each one of our speakers throughout the day, facilitating our question and answer sessions, which follow each of today’s two panel, as well as our keynote presentation. I’d also like to acknowledge Alina, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, and her talented team, her staff and consultants. This, as we all know, is a very timely and critical conversation for our city and our county. And all of us know of the hard work that goes into coordinating an event like this. And so, I want to acknowledge and appreciate all the work that you’ve done to make this happen today. And we hope this is the first of many, many, to come in building this movement. Thank you! And with that, I’d like to briefly introduce Alina. Many of you already know her, but before she comes to the podium, I want to say a few words about her before she delivers her opening remarks and sets the foundation for today’s discussion. Alina Bokde is Executive Director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust. As Executive Director, Alina is responsible for overseeing the projects and programs related to the creation of community green spaces such as parks, community gardens, and playgrounds. And she and her team, work tirelessly to address the lack of open spaces in Los Angeles under-served neighborhoods. Key to the LA Neighborhood Land Trust structure and form is community organizing and engagement. To ensure community voice, community design, in every step of the process. From the beginning of selecting of park lot, to developing it and to programming it on through. This is key to the sustainability of the Land Trust projects throughout the city. Prior to joining the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, Alina served as Deputy Executive Officer for the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, and she was responsible for the development of the Urban Lands Program. Alina also managed complex conservation-focused real estate transactions for the trust for public land. She serves on several community and civic organizations, including as a board member of the California Council of Land Trust. Alina is leading the Land Trust though a phenomenal phase of growth. She not only brings tremendous leadership to the Land Trust, but as she is really helping to push the field forward toward greater recognition of the problem of park and equities in Los Angeles’ most low-income part, poor communities and all the relevant community-oriented solutions that her organization is helping to push forward. She is a model, her organization is a model for the state and for the nation. I count myself as very proud to serve on Alina’s board. Alina, please join us at the podium.>So, good morning everybody! So, thank you again, for coming to the Land Trust’ first annual park equity symposium. So, we hope to invite you back annually, to have a conversation and continue to grow the movement and advocacy for park equity, not only in the city of Los Angeles, but the county and in the States. So, because we know that these issues are pertinent throughout many communities in California. So before I get started with my brief presentation, I want to thank Manal for being our emcee today. I know that’s not an easy job. And definitely, thank both Raphael and the Bedrosian Center of Governance and the USC Price of School of Public Policy, for use of the space and for all of the great support they’ve given us on preparing for today. We want to recognize, we have some sponsors for today. So, we want to recognize our sponsors: The Nature Conservancy, Community Health Council’s United for Health, it’s a program under The Center for Disease Control and Prevention Community Transformation Grant, Small Communities Program. And finally, Proposition 84, to improve the sustainability and livability of California’s communities through the Strategic Growth Council’s Urban Greening for Sustainable Communities Grant Program. So, none of you will have to repeat that. But we want to thank our sponsors for helping us, really, again, kind of pull today together. So, today’s turn-out really does show very strong commitment to park equities. So, again, we’re really excited to have you here. And please, as you hear the speakers today, pull together any questions that you have, any comments. We want to make sure that this is not just a set of presentations, but it’s also a dialogue today. So we welcome, kind of your participation. So, I wanted to start with… I think, you know, it’s always important to, I think, understand definition and language when we start talking about a variety of issues. And so, I wanted to kind of just present a definition for equity. Because we’re talking about park equity. And I know for us at the Land Trust, you know, equity is an issue of justice. It’s an issue of being fair. And it’s an issue of resources. And so, when we talk about park equity, we are talking about making sure that every person that lives in the city of Los Angeles has the same access… the same access to parks, to recreation, to the type of quality of life that every resident of Los Angeles deserves. And so, you’re going to be hearing lots of speakers talking today about what, in fact, has helped shape the situation we’re in today. But as well, as what are some of the solutions, and what are some of the things that are happening to help address this issue of equity. So, the opposite of equity for us is really unfairness and inequities, and so, just to kind of set that tone. So when I came to the Land Trust, one of the reasons that I came to the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust was because of the commitment that surrounded the funding of our organization. And the founding equity was really at the core of the founding of the Neighborhood Land Trust. So, our work is about addressing this issue of park equity. So, we are committed to reversing and addressing the inequities to both our project work, our policy work, and by building a grassroots movement through urban park advocates, from the communities that are most impacted by these disparities, by these inequities. So, that is why I am at the Land Trust and that’s why I’m very excited that today has finally arrived. We believe that without a strong voice… advocacy voice from communities, low-income communities of color, that are most impacted by these inequities, that we will not see the kind of change that we believe is very much needed in Los Angeles. So again, the goals for today’s symposium is to, again, review kind of the historical, social, economic, and environmental conditions that created these park inequities in Los Angeles, provide solutions to improve access to green space again for the most impacted communities. Help identify and support strategies and best practices to reverse these park inequities, And again, finally, inspire a new generation of young park advocates, which all of you, I consider to be part of the family. So again, we’re very excited to have you here. So with that, I’m going to just jump a little bit into some of the context of park inequities. And do a short presentation before we invite our first set of panelists up. So, a lot of what you’re going to hear about today and a lot of the reason for today was, you know, we did a lot of research on this issue of park inequities and park equity. We wanted to better as an organization, understand what some of the thinking was related to this issue. And so, there is. We’re very excited to say that in our research, there is a growing body… a research about park inequities in low-income communities of color. And that specifically focus on the park deficits in the LA region. So to summarize, you know, LA has the least amount of accessible park space per capita among the largest US cities. LA spends less on parks and recreation than most major US and California cities. And Los Angeles’ low-income communities of color, beared disproportionate burden of the park inequities to related health disparities, lower quality of life. So park inequities are devastating, not only for those who bear the greatest burden but also really for our entire region. So, the key findings from this research demonstrate that low-income, non-white neighborhoods have the least access to parks. South Los Angeles and East Los Angeles are the most negatively impacted. Parks in the poorest neighborhoods have the fewest facilities, part-time staff and the fewest number of programs. Older, denser areas have the least amount of park space and facilities that are in the worst shape. Income, race, and ethnicity, determine recreational resource allocations with low-income, non-white communities having the fewest recreational programs. So we’ve… you know, kind of what we’ve known on the ground is the research is showing and supporting some of the things we’re learning. So, the table was developed here out of some of the research that Dr. Jennifer Wolch, when she headed USC’s Sustainable Cities Program, and her colleagues developed an analysis of parks deficits using JIS and other data systems. So, her research study takes a deep dive into the allocation of park space across population groups. Again, Los Angeles neighborhoods that are predominantly white have significantly more park space than those that are low-income or are predominantly African-American, Latino or Asian-American. So, what’s Los Angeles compared to other cities? Another perspective of park inequities for Los Angeles emerges when we look at park spending and performance measures, compared to other major US cities and California jurisdictions. According to the Trust Republic Lands 2012 City Park facts, the city of Los Angeles spends 59 dollars per resident, per year on parks. So again, 59 dollars per resident, per year on parks and recreation compared to 287 dollars spent by other top-ranked: Washington DC, Arlington Virginia spends 255. And there are cities like San Francisco, Fresno, that are in the high one hundreds, in terms of the numbers. So, you’re looking at Los Angeles’ 59 dollars. Los Angeles has 1,399… so, 1,400 park and recreation employees to serve the needs of a 3.7 million dollar population. In comparison, Seattle with a population of about 630,000 dollars, has 951 park and recreation employees. So, you begin to see the other forms of disparity. Los Angeles has 379 playgrounds, which is 1 per 1,000 residents, in comparison to Madison, Wisconsin, which has 173 playgrounds or 7.2 per… playgrounds per 10,000. So, pretty significant difference. These numbers demonstrate that while there is recognition about the severity of park inequities in Los Angeles, our city has not yet fundamentally addressed this pervasive problem. So to build upon the context for this symposium, again, as I started off in terms of working definition for the phrase of park inequities. So, park inequities are avoidable inequalities in the allocation. Again, for us, park inequities deals with the allocation of park and recreation resources and amenities, as well as the quantity and quality of services provided to park users. So, what do we mean by resources? Resources include park and recreation units or facilities and land set aside for the parks, plus the funding that is allocated to each. And what do we mean by amenities? Includes facilities, features such as restrooms, ball courts, playground equipment, landscape derbies, community rooms, and services, for us defines operations and maintenance of park facilities staffs. And programs that are offered by park staff. So, park inequity is an environmental injustice issue. So, the literature, again, supports that park inequities has grown a great deal. The literature has shown… that the park inequities literature has grown a lot deal in the last decade. Many scholars recognize the inequitable access to parks and recreation services and low-income communities of color constitute an environmental injustice issue. So, this goes back to the issue of equity injustice. The need for fair treatment, and meaningful environment… involvement, excuse me, from low-income communities of color most impacted by a lack of parks and open space. So again, there’s a direct connection between race and class and access to parks. What are some of the categories of park inequities? Let’s look a little further. Dr. Chonas Sister and Dr. Jason Byrne have examined various types of park inequities and classified them as: 1) Distributional or spatial inequities. So, this really deals with the placement and the size of park facilities. The second is procedural inequalities related to… this is community participation and agency decision-making. Or, again, the neglect in operations and maintenance of existing parks. And then third, resource inequities relate to how are funds generally allocated, state and federal grant making, and then recreation programs in public and private settings. So, what are these pathways? How did inequities… what are some of the pathways leading to inequities? So, our analysis of park inequities is based upon the… what we call the quantitative evidence of park inequities. The research literature, as well as well as our collective experience in developing park infrastructure and advocating for urban parks. Similar to other types of inequities, poverty, oppression, and discrimination are the root causes underline park inequities. Inequities are driven by social, economic, and historic forces including segregation, biased planning and park-making, and economic restructuring. In Los Angeles, these forces have been exacerbated. So rules that govern the allocation of resources, as well as the quantity and quality of services. At the root cause, the allocation of park resources, park services, and what we call the cultural politics of park-making have resulted in park inequities. So, we believe that addressing the resources related to parks and recreation services offer the best opportunity to reverse these park inequities. So, what are some of the consequences? So, here is a short list based upon our research. The image on this slide comes from an apartment complex in a park core area of Santa Ana and shows what happens when communities densify without increasing park space as the population grows. With no parks nearby and prohibited from playing in the apartment complex common area, these little boys end up playing in a dumpster. Since this photo was taken, two new parks have opened in Santa Ana through the efforts of Latino Health Access and other park advocates. Again, we talked a little bit about what are some of the drivers of inequalities, yes, I think we all know who’s there. So, many scholars assert that segregation, and biased planning, zoning, and real estate purchases, are the drivers of resource and infrastructure inequalities in urban low-income communities of color. So these developed overtime, dating back to Jim Crow laws, discriminatory post-World War Two home loans. Exclusionary zoning, racial covenants and red-lining among other practices. So hopefully, this gives you a sense of how complex this issue is. A case study in Baltimore found that segregation coupled with aggressive efforts to attract and improve green space, resulted in a disproportionate share of these resources going into Baltimore’s predominantly white affluent areas at the expense of a low-income black neighborhood. Jennifer Wolch and her colleagues have identified other drivers of park inequities, including global and national economic restructuring. In regions like Los Angeles, residents are segregated along the lines of income and race. These divisions lead to inequities and access to open space parks and other desirable land uses. Much of this economic restructuring resulted from what we call ‘devolution’, which is the shifting of responsibility from many public services, from federal government to state and local government. Decline in federal funds and fiscal disparities make it difficult for poor jurisdictions to respond to local needs and conflicting demands reducing their ability to provide parks and recreation. Again, without sufficient funds to adequately support park and recreation services, these cities have responded by dismantling programs, sub-contracting services, increased fees, and establishing partnerships with non-profits and other government agencies. The origins of urban parks go back to the aristocratic parks and gardens of ancient civilizations. And more recently, the landscaped estates of European aristocrats. In the US, public parks were established by Anglo-American only and have reflected the dominant cultures value and standard against by which… against which, used by other cultural groups have been controlled. Parks not only have a deep, complex, social and cultural meaning but histories of resistance, conflict, and violence, While urban parks have provided landscape and other areas to enhance health and provide relief, they have also served as a means of social control over working class people, immigrants, and youth by shaping leisure time activity and influencing moral and social behavior consistent with dominant cultural values and class norms. Park development in the US has also resulted in the exclusion of African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and some other Ethnic groups. For example, the construction of New York Central Park required the displacement of a well-established Irish and African-American neighborhood. The development of many of our national parks, including Yosemite and Yellowstone, involve the forced eviction of Native American tribes. In the Jim Crow South, there were segregated park systems with different parks for whites and blacks. Parks designated for people of color were generally smaller, receiving far less funding and had fewer facilities. They were also located on the outskirts of town, on land that was not well-suited for other development. Park planning in Los Angeles has had a long and arduous past and park deficiencies and inadequate public resources for these amenities have been persistent problems for more than a century. As the city of Los Angeles grew, it considered itself fundamentally different from Eastern cities. The growth of the city and the region was based upon a suburban ideal featuring the single family home with private yards and gardens. Despite Los Angeles reputation as a place of recreation, Los Angeles did not go through a park building phase like many other large cities and missed its historic opportunity to create large or neighborhood parks, scenic highways, and public open space. If many of you have heard about the Olmstead plan, that had been developed many times to try to develop this broader system of parks and open spaces in Los Angeles but it ended up getting shelved, unfortunately, many times. In the 20th century, Los Angeles public lands were sold off. The LA river was channelized, agricultural landscapes were transformed into suburban tracked homes. And Sprawl interconnected by streets, freeways, and parking lots, covered by one third of the region’s land mass. The landscape that had attracted hundreds and thousands of immigrants to Southern California was systematically eradicated. Mainstream environmental activism rose in the late 60’s and 70’s when Sprawl reached a crisis point. Efforts focused on stopping development, rather than addressing the 100,000 acre park deficit in Los Angeles county. Much of the expansion of park land after 1970 came in the form of open space, much of it in Santa Monica mountains. At the same time, the region continue to grow along with property values and taxes. Proposition 13 kept property taxes by two thirds and shifted financial and operational authority from local governments and school officials to Sacramento. In 1979, the city’s recreation and parks budget went from 40 million dollars to 4.8 million dollars or shrunk, sorry, shrunk by 4.8 million. So, that’s a pretty significant… it shrunk by 12% in 1979, 1980. Of the city’s 350 park facilities, 34 recreation centers were closed and park hours reduced. Recreation and parks department staff were cut in half from 4,000, down to 2,000 employees. And from 1972 to 1988, the city acquired less than 1,000 acres of park land. Prop. 13 intensified historic park inequities in African-American, Latino neighborhoods. As the 1980’s progressed, parks were abandoned with many believing only the homeless and drug dealers inhabited them. In 1984, USC published a report on the growing recreation gap, which found that despite Prop. 13 cuts, recreation centers and the middle-class and affluent neighborhoods had more staff, provided more classes, and served more kids than recreation in poor areas. And inundatedly, we know these practices continue today. So, the fortunate thing though, is there are efforts underway to address some of the most restrictive provisions of Prop. 13. So, I hope that this not-so-brief presentation help set the context for the speakers that you’ll be hearing today. And with that, I want to invite Manal to join us to introduce our panel.>Well done.

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