It’s been well documented that parks and green spaces promote better health and greater well being. It’s also been well documented that Los Angeles is one of the park-poorest cities in the nation. But the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust has been quietly doing something to improve our city’s dismally low park levels.
Since its founding in 2004, the Neighborhood Land Trust has added nearly eight acres of accessible green space to LA by helping create 25 parks and gardens serving almost 200,000 Angelenos annually. By the end of next year, they will have completed five more parks and gardens, adding nearly 15 additional acres of green space to LA County. The Trust’s operating budget is $2.4 million, but their construction budget can vary from $5 to $20 million annually, depending on the projects under construction.
The mission of the Neighborhood Land Trust is to build healthier, stronger and safer neighborhoods by creating urban parks and community gardens. And the Neighborhood Land Trust’s success isn’t just in building parks. Rather it lies in its unique approach to engaging and organizing the community living near its park sites to identify community needs for the site, create relevant programs, and to steward these parks and gardens. The Trust’s signature model of working with the community assures the park or green space will be used by the community and, most importantly, cared for by the local residents.
The Neighborhood Land Trust tends to build small pocket size parks to fit into LA’s urban neighborhoods. The average size park is less than a quarter acre, though there are several projects in the pipeline that are larger, including one on the Carson-Compton are that will be 8.5 acres when completed. Most of the funding comes from government sources, and recently much has come from Measure A, passed by the voters last year. The next largest source of funding comes from private foundations, and then from individuals.
It’s very important to raise additional funds for ongoing maintenance, explained Executive Director Tamika Butler. “Everyone wants to build a new park,” said Butler, “but our parks are so heavily used that things that should last 10 years, wear out in five years in our parks.”
The process of creating a park always starts with community engagement.
“We knock on every door. We put the community at the center of the discussion because we want the community to feel part of the process. We don’t want our parks to be a tool of gentrification, so we get community involved. We also realize parks are places where people get together. Our communities are very diverse, African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans all live near our parks, so all our all meetings and materials are translated into multiple languages so we can work with whole community and bring everyone together,” explained Butler. “We also have developed a park equity leadership program so we can train people to replace our staff at these parks.”
Recently, the Buzz tagged along with the Hancock Park Garden Club (HPGC) on a tour of four parks. The HPGC is a supporter of the Neighborhood Land Trust, and club members Lauren Gabor Goldstein and Carolyn Ramsay, both of Windsor Square, have served in leadership roles in the organization.
The first park we toured, Unidad Park & Community Garden, is at 1644 Beverly Boulevard. The park is located in the heart of Historic Filipinotown, and first opened as a park in 2007. The park is home to the largest Filipino-American mural west of the Mississippi River. In February 2012, the Land Trust worked alongside residents to add 18 raised garden beds to establish a community garden. The Hancock Park Garden Club provided a grant for the purchase of trees in the garden. Each community gardener pays $5 a month for a plot and agrees to care for their space. There are currently 14 people on the waiting list for plots.
Local leadership for each park works with the Neighborhood Land Trust to make sure the park is cleaned, and when things need to be repaired, the Trust staff provide maintenance service for the park, as well as paying someone from the community to open and close the park every day. They also offer free programming like master gardening and exercise classes for local residents. As a result, this green space is a beloved neighborhood asset.
Next we visited MC Francis Community Garden at 2909 Francis Avenue in Koreatown. The MC Francis Community Garden’s history began in 1996, when local residents transformed a small abandoned lot into a thriving community space. A handful of dedicated community members maintained the garden for more than a decade, until the Neighborhood Land Trust became involved more than ten years ago. The garden serves as a meeting place where residents can participate in programs on nutrition and master gardening, and using organic gardening techniques, as well as serving as the starting point for neighborhood clean-up efforts.
Jacaranda Park is a long, 5.35 acre park in the Avalon corridor in South Los Angeles at 2632 South Raymond Avenue. Recently completed for a cost of $5 million, for decades the land was simply a vacant lot owned by the Department of Water and Power. It was a dumping ground for trash and gang activity. The Neighborhood Land Trust was brought in by the City of Los Angeles and LADWP to work with the community to develop plans for the park.
Now residents have access to safe walking paths that meander across the site in the shade of multiple Jacaranda and Pepper trees, and which lead to a variety of features including a dry bio-swale and native plants demonstration garden.
Jacaranda Park is so much more than park space, explained Butler.
“Involving the community gets the gang activity down because the community polices the neighborhood and it keeps people from getting involved in criminal activities which makes the community community safer,” said Butler.
The last park we visited was the Fremont Wellness Center & Community Garden also in South Los Angeles at 7821 South Avalon Boulevard. The Neighborhood Land Trust has operated this unique site for six years, in partnership with UMMA Community Clinic and Los Angeles Unified School District.
The garden is situated on the campus of John C. Fremont High School. Students, their families and community members enjoy the benefits of accessing the fruit tree orchard, student and community garden beds, and a native plants garden area.
In February, the Neighborhood Land Trust opened a 1600-square foot state-of-the-art greenhouse that supports the science curriculum for students, teaching them horticulture, how to experiment with medicinal plants, and sustainable agriculture methods like wind row composting. All the plants that are raised from seeds are given away, as well as all the produce from the garden, at a bi-weekly community farmers market.