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More Parkland for LA

by Lize Mogel Sunday, Aug. 12, 2001 at 10:17 AM
lizemogel@hotmail.com

Recently, public parkland has been in the news, what with the creation of the new cornfields park on the moribund LA River. Artist Lize Mogel, who makes maps for the LA Bus and transit shelters, reports on the the park politics of LA and the organizationsyou can contact to get more parks for your neighborhood.

Parks are some of the few widely accessible public spaces in Los Angeles, spaces in which communities are invested. The process of creating a park is complex, and involves many organizations working in partnership, from state and city agencies to national and local non-profits. It is entirely possible to re-imagine the urban landscape; communities with available land are now in an ideal position to advocate for parks, as there is much public and media interest, and now most importantly, funding.

A map of parks in the LA area shows about 400 publicly accessible green spaces, inadequate to support the city's population, especially in economically disadvantaged, densely populated neighborhoods. Patterns emerge in the distribution of parks across the city- the most park-poor neighborhoods are either the very wealthiest, or the very poorest. Well-heeled neighborhoods contain residences with large yards or other private green spaces, like golf courses or gated parks. Economically disadvantaged neighborhoods usually contain too few parks for massive numbers of people living without access to private space. State forests ring the city, but without adequate public transportation to or information about these areas, they are rendered virtually invisible to urban communities.

Current funding for parks comes from several sources. State, county, and city legislation gives money to city agencies and non-profits to buy land, and to create, modify, improve and maintain parks. Legislation includes Proposition 12 (Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Water, Clean Air, and Coastal Protection Bond Act) and Proposition 13 (Safe Drinking Water, Clean Water, Watershed Protection, and Flood Protection Bond Act). In addition, LA has gotten parkland from private owners who reduced tax liability by selling or donating land to a non-profit organization or to the city.

The passage of Propositions 12 and 13 last year, as well as the county's "Los Angeles River Master Plan", have channeled new funding and energy into greening the city. The city's Department of Recreation and Parks has a recent mandate to create pocket parks, which it was somewhat reluctant to do previously since these small green spaces are time-consuming to maintain. LA parks an election-year issue: recent mayoral candidates included Antonio Villaraigosa, who co-authored Proposition 13 and received a lot of support for this action. On a local level, the recent acquisition of the Cornfields, a large property in Chinatown, has pushed the parks issue to the front pages of the LA Times and Weekly. Advocates for the creation of a state park at the former Taylor rail yard have thwarted the initial development of the site for industrial purposes.

Los Angeles was built with commercial interests in mind- the decentralized, auto centric city was shaped by profiteering as well as the pursuit of the American Dream, the pastoral Jeffersonian image of the rural (translated to Suburban) yeoman. In the early 20th century, there were still significant open areas. Some city leaders advocated for the purchase of acreage for parks when inexpensive land was still available and went so far as to fund a large scale study and plan for an extensive network of parks created by the son of the man who designed NY City

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