First 5 LA: 50 Parks Initiative

Original story originally appeared on the First 5 LA website, here:

February 27, 2012

Three new parks will be built with First 5 LA funds as part of the Los Angeles Parks Foundation’s 50 Parks Initiative. The Board of Commissioners approved a nearly $1.5 million allocation at its Feb. 9 meeting for two parks in South Los Angeles and one in Pacoima, all of which will be in Best Startcommunities.The 50 Parks Initiative grew out of a citywide needs assessment conducted several years ago by the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. The assessment found that the city’s 420 parks and facilities were not equitably distributed and many communities did not have parks within walking distance. The LAPF, the nonprofit fundraising arm of the Recreation and Parks Department, developed a plan to leverage private and public partnerships to develop 50 open spaces in “park poor” neighborhoods.Judith Kieffer, LAPF executive director, said city officials met with bankers to identify foreclosed properties that could be donated. In addition, the Los Angeles Housing Authority also donated sites, including the three that will be built with First 5 LA funds. To date, 49 future park sites are identified, according to Kieffer.

“The most important part is that these sites are located in densely populated urban areas and create within a neighborhood a walkable park where none exist,” Kieffer said. She said there may be parks nearby, but major intersections and gang territories often divide the neighborhoods, creating dangers that keep parents from walking the streets with young children.

JoAnn Smith, a South Los Angeles resident and a member of the Best Start Broadway-Manchester Leadership Group, said the parks are needed for families and community members to have a safe place to be together in otherwise unsafe neighborhoods. “People need to have places where they meet other people and, hopefully, all people will get together in neighborhoods and learn to care about each other as people used to do in the old days,” Smith said.

Most sites are small – about a quarter acre or less, Kieffer said. Park officials are working with the communities, including Best Start Community Partnership members, to plan each park, including what amenities they will include, like playground equipment for young children, stroller paths and adult exercise equipment, which are very popular, Kieffer said.

Children need daily physical activity to maintain a healthy weight, and several studies link healthy outcomes to access to sidewalks, walking paths, playgrounds or recreation centers and physical activity. As a recent study found, preschool-aged children aren’t necessarily getting enough physical activity at day care centers, too. The investment and partnership gives First 5 LA opportunities to not only further the strategic goal that all children maintain a healthy weight, but it is also aligned with the Tot Parks and Trails Initiative.

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