This image is from one of our Community Dialogue meetings where we worked with local leaders of community-based organizations to host small, targeted conversations with residents about the importance of green infrastructure (Learn More About this Effort).
With our LA #WatershedActive Recreation Guide, we shared how being #WatershedActive can be about enjoying recreational opportunities in the watershed. For this post and the last, we have expanded what it means to be #WatershedActive by helping individuals understand the value of open space and highlighting how empowered community stakeholders can exercise their voices and values to create healthier watersheds and communities. In our last post, Empowering #WatershedActive Communities Part 1: Ecosystem Services, we shared reasons to appreciate our natural resources. In this post, we explain more reasons to collectively opt outdoors and provide information to empower community stakeholders. Hopefully these posts will reinvigorate Angelenos and the public to adopt a new way of being #WatershedActive— by getting involved to support open space and watershed health.
We Need Nature, Nature Needs Us
According to the LA County Department of Parks and Recreation, we have 63,000 acres of parks and 1,400 miles of streams that stem from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Pacific Ocean (1). There are 87 regional and local parks, 344 miles of hiking trails, and 19 golf courses (2). These natural resources have the potential to provide more ecosystem services to our communities; however, most of these natural spaces occur in pockets, isolated by urban development, and their ecosystem services, stifled.
Los Angeles County is in severe need of more green spaces (2). Based on a recent inventory of the need for parks in Los Angeles County, per every 1,000 people in Los Angeles County, there are only 3.3 acres of public space. This is half of the national median of 6.8 acres per 1,000 people (3). The Los Angeles Countywide Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment quantified this need in a report. The assessment found that 51% of citizens live more than half a mile away from a park (2). The imbalanced distribution of natural spaces in Los Angeles might seemingly lead to the unequal distribution of ecosystem services and benefits.
The need for open space is exacerbated by climate change. Increased temperatures in our densely populated urban centers coupled with water supply challenges threaten the health of our urban ecosystems, the magnitude of their services and the communities which lack these vital resources to mitigate climate change’s worst effects. Some of the communities with the most severe need live within highly urbanized downtown Los Angeles. Fortunately, there are opportunities to increase ecosystem benefits, for example, by creating and connecting pockets of green space with green alleys (Learn more about our green alley projects). Other strategies are to add more large trees, such as native oaks, to strengthen the urban tree canopy in existing spaces, and to leverage LA River Revitalization efforts to add additional parks and public space. Nonetheless, as our State and local governments challenge us to think about climate-resilient communities, we must all turn our attention toward protection and enhancement of our natural resources to meet the climate crisis with the highest magnitude of ecosystem services for the most people.
Importance of Community Stakeholders
But how do we, community stakeholders, do it? Well, introducing new open space projects is easier said than done but many of the challenges cited by the United Nations Global Public Space Toolkit (4) could be overcome with stronger community engagement and #WatershedActive individuals! The goal of the UN Toolkit was to provide a guide to the most relevant principles, policies and practices for cities, with actionable ideas on how to improve the availability, quality, and distribution of good public spaces. This guide expands on the value of public space in ways that this blog series is not able to so we encourage you to read more. Within the Toolkit, several factors have been identified as constraints to the creation, management, and enjoyment of public spaces around the world. These public spaces are the natural resources of urbanized cities likes Los Angeles and enhance environmental health. We want to encourage communities to become #WatershedActive and minimize some of these constraints, listed below, and we have some suggestions about how. By reading the constraints, one begins to see how strong community stakeholders can make a difference:
Some Constraints to the Creation, Management and Enjoyment of Good Public Spaces, Identified by the UN Global Public Space Toolkit:
“The conviction that the internet and social networks have become the new public spaces to the extent that the traditional ones are regarded as irrelevant or, at the very least, outmoded.”
“Weakening of social cohesion, little regard for public goods on the part of large portions of the citizenry and increasing frequency of acts of vandalism.”
“Perceived or real insecurity in public spaces, with consequential effects of limited use, abandonment and decline.”
“Commoditization of public space, namely the tendency to transform social relations in commercial aspects, such as the proliferation of specialized facilities for shopping and leisure and private sports facilities; Pressures exercised by speculative real estate interests.”
“Decreasing resources for the creation and maintenance of public spaces due to weakened fiscal revenues and the frequent inefficiency of public spending;” Challenges for effective public leadership to support open space. (Did you know that LA County actually has funds for open space thanks to voters and tax-payers like you? Learn more about Measure A and the Los Angeles Regional Park and Open Space District).
“Vulnerability of many public spaces to improper uses, such as the transformation of public squares into parking lots; the vehicular occupation of spaces reserved for pedestrians; the encroachment on public spaces by restaurant and commercial activities outside permitted areas.”
The Power of Community Stakeholders
If you are a community member that values the environment and the services it provides, it’s important to know that collectively, we have the power to counter the constraints listed above. Simply by leaving the screens behind and opting outside to enjoy natural resources, a strong community presence can justify the addition and protection of public space, driving off commoditization which turns open space into parking lots. Community presence might even inspire peer stewardship efforts. With the help of community-based organizations, community members can identify problem areas and inform redesigns to improve safety and discourage vandalism. As more people enjoy and value public spaces, an argument can be made for increased resource allocation for new projects or additional maintenance for existing ones. By spending time in communal spaces and especially by working together, a community can come together to form stronger bonds, increasing community cohesion and decreasing apathy toward public goods. Community members can also get involved in leadership roles, enhancing their knowledge and skill set. By expressing your values in your community, you can create a platform for others to follow, potentially creating a movement that can be more easily supported by local representatives.
Getting involved with community-based and non-profit organizations is also a real advantage because you are joining a coalition that promises to advocate for your values and can deliver the results you wish to see in your community. Non-profit organizations are often more experienced and better equipped to navigate the legal jargon of city planning needed for managing projects. These organizations are also pivotal in securing funding from local and State sources to plan and implement the projects that a community desires. In fact, through a partnership with the Water Foundation, we are now actively working with a community-based organization, Active-SGV, among others, on the Merced Avenue Greenway project to enhance a street with flooding issues in a San Gabriel Valley neighborhood. With community input, this project is shaping up to provide multiple benefits for community stakeholders and watershed health. These projects and their continued success aren't possible without public support and we encourage you to be a #WatershedActive individual to help steer your community toward a healthier, more sustainable future.Now, let's get #WatershedActive!
Visit our #WatershedActive Guide and interactive map to get started with these steps:
Identify your watershed- You should know which watershed you are in before using #WatershedActive!
Opt outside and recreate! If you live in LA County, visit this Interactive Park Map to find your local parks and check out our LA #WatershedActive Recreation Guide for more ideas
Get involved with a community-based organization in your area- learn how you can advocate for open space in your community
Attend a town hall or neighborhood meeting- express your values and get informed
Support open space advocacy groups by volunteering or donating
Remember to visit our #WatershedActive Guide and interactive map to get started!
With the current state of need in urban areas and the threats to natural spaces, it is imperative for the public to support them. LA has a huge need for more public spaces and as community stakeholders, you all have significant power to secure a better future. So take pride in public assets, express that you value clean air, cooler environments, and healthy ecosystems and connect with an organization that values the same. Simply by opting outside and exercising your voice, you can positively influence our watershed’s human and ecological communities.
2018 State of the Los Angeles River: Watershed Report, Council for Watershed Health
Los Angeles Countywide Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment, Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation
Remember to tag us in your photos this summer with #WatershedActive and stay connected with us!
Thank you to our #SummerScienceFriday partner!