Friday, September 04, 2009

CityWatchLA - Make Parks, Not War!

CityWatch, Sept 4, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 71

Los Angeles' Mayor Villaraigosa is the Captain of a ship adrift, battered and tossed by the budget crisis, unemployment, home foreclosures, homelessness, traffic congestion, air pollution, land use struggles, transit controversy and a host of other issues, all sized proportionately for the largest City in the most populated State in the most powerful Country in the World.

As Villaraigosa stands on the bridge and looks at the rocks, he also watches as members of his senior staff row to shore, demonstrating with their rapid exits their confidence, or lack thereof, in the direction Los Angeles is headed.

Scrambling to muster a team, he has raised more than a few eyebrows with his appointments to fill those empty uniforms and we can only hope that those who answer the call have maps with them and that they stay long enough chart a course that moves Los Angeles in the right direction. Stepping up as Chief of Staff comes the Rev. Jeff Carr, fresh from his successful tour of duty as the "Gang Czar" responsible for "Summer Night Lights," a program designed to confront the problem of gangs and inner city crime, not by declaring war, but by providing evening access to parks and by providing activities to bring people together and to create community.

Novel concept! Got the attention of the White House. For 16 neighborhoods in Los Angeles, the two year old program offered "skaters, taggers, rockers, homies, jocks, ballers and, of course, their families" the opportunity to enjoy each others company, supported by "summer squad" park staff along with gang-intervention workers.

The program is not without controversy and the actual impact of the program is being debated.

The Mayor's office is claiming a 17 percent drop in "violent gang-related crime" and an 86 percent "reduction in gang-related homicides" in "communities surrounding SNL parks."

Critics point out that "the final Gang crime statistics, which may or may not give some idea of the success of Summer Night Lights, won't be tallied until AFTER the program ends on September 5."

As the debate settles out, it's refreshing to note that under Carr's leadership, the City of Los Angeles stands a fair chance of moving forward under the banner of "Make Parks, Not War!"

If the Chief of Staff can take that same mission inside City Hall, we may stand a chance of weathering the storm!

Imagine if you will, the warring departments within the City of Los Angeles coming together in a campaign centered around parks. It makes sense!

Think of parks as Water Reclamation opportunities and you've got the Department of Water & Power working with Rec & Parks.

Think of all of the DWP property that could be utilized for parks, from the huge swaths of land under the transmission lines to the small pocket parks at the switching stations. Landscape and maintain the property with bio-basins for retention and infiltration and we're well on our way to reclaiming water and providing green space, all at the same time.

Think of parks as Public Safety strategies and you've got the Police Department working with General Services.

Imagine all of the city property that typically sits in a default "off-limits" state, vulnerable to crime while the people of Los Angeles scramble to find public space. Involving the community and putting eyes on the street is an effective technique for reducing in crime and for creating an enhanced sense of community.

Think of parks as Air Pollution mitigation and you've got the Ports and Harbor Authorities partnering with the local communities in solutions that resonate, cleaning the air and creating community, providing for healthy bodies and healthier neighborhoods.

Think of parks as Emergency Preparedness strategies and you've got the Fire Department working with Rec & Parks.

Imagine the people in a community engaged and connected so that in the event of an emergency and an evacuation, they're already acquainted and prepared and know the drill.

Think of parks as Sustainable Community tipping points, starting places for a real conversation of sustainability and how it resonates environmentally, economically, educationally and socially.

Imagine people (re)thinking their communities and land use and mobility from the perspective of a sustainable and intentional lifestyle and how it all started with a park!

Think of parks as educational facilities and a whole new relationship with the LAUSD blossoms, integrating rather than isolating, bringing down rather than building fences, creating partnerships that begin with simple access and linger as the community takes responsibility for education and for the educational facilities.

Think of parks so numerous that people actually walk to them, creating street life and contributing to the health of the community. Transportation and Planning now have a whole new application of access and mobility to incorporate into the Community Plans. They might even begin to work together!

Think of parks as a foundation element in street standards and Public Works has a whole new approach to laying down Green Streets, Safe Streets, Shared Streets, Complete Streets and Great Streets. To think, it all started with a park!

Granted, the City of Los Angeles is facing significant crises and building a Zen garden in my neighborhood is not going to balance the budget or put people to work. But with almost four dozen different departments in LA and enough Deputy Mayors to fill a couple of life rafts, I contend that if the Mayor is serious about citywide solutions that “require new creative thinking,” he start by positioning LA as a Great City of Great Parks.

That point of focus gives Chief of Staff Carr the opportunity to direct the full force of the city with a starting point, an end point and a "context specific" approach to working together.

If Chief of Staff Carr can get the Deputy Mayors and the General Managers of Los Angeles to all put their hands out, grab a piece of a park and to simply reposition themselves and their departments in the context of building more parks, I propose that Los Angeles would be well on its way to becoming a Great City, one park at a time.

Along the way, we'll solve a lot of problems, we'll create community and we'll become a proactive city!

As for me, I'm starting tomorrow, at the Park(ing) Day LA Workshop. We'll be building a park, on Santa Monica Blvd., in a curbside park(ing) space.

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Photo credit: LA Times. ◘

Park[ing] Day LA Workshop:
On September 5, 2009 @ 10 am, we will be hosting a Park[ing] Day LA Workshop.
The Greensters will be using bikes to transpo supplies to the location (9am load-in, 9:30 ride, 10am arrival) where we will install a simple and basic temporary park as a demonstration project.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
9:00 am to 10:00 am - Greensters transpo
10:00 am to 2:00 pm - Park[ing] Day LA Workshop
4590 Santa Monica Boulevard
South side of the street
Between Madison & Westmoreland

Los Angeles, CA 90029

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