Who's Cultivating Oases in the Concrete Deserts of Los Angeles?

In a recent analysis of parks in the 50 largest American cities, Los Angeles ranked a pitiful 34th. That's nestled in between Wichita and Fort Worth, and far from second-ranked rival New York City. 

Los Angeles certainly has some great parks, and quite a lot of acreage relative to the city, but the Trust for Public Land flunked the metropolis because of a sad lack of services and equal access. Vast swaths of land in L.A. — particularly in the less privileged parts of town — are deserts of concrete, without so much as a patch of public grass.

Groups like Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, and their major funders like Annenberg Foundation, are trying to reshape this sad state of greenery (see Annenberg Foundation: Grants for Parks and Gardens).

The LANLT started in 2002, in response to a report that outlined the stark lack of access to parks and gardens in undeserved neighborhoods. The trust's mission is to organize low-income communities to conceptualize and create small, urban parks themselves. One of the nonprofit’s largest supporters has been the Annenberg Foundation, which devotes most of its considerable annual grantmaking to the Los Angeles region. With programs for community support and environmental work, they make several small and medium-sized grants to park, gardens, and other projects for more city green space.

Annenberg has given nearly a million dollars to the nonprofit, half a million of which was granted in 2011, making the foundation the group’s largest single supporter (read Anneberg executive director Leonard Aube's IP profile). The Trust's model is a grassroots approach to developing parks. Rather than plunking down a chunk of cash, the group works with community members to see what they'd want in a park, helps to acquire vacant land — trash-strewn lots or old parks in disrepair — and facilitates the residents' design and management of the new park. So far they've helped create nine new parks and gardens.

The wide-ranging benefits of such pockets of maintained green, little release valves or community sanctuaries in urban settings, have been well documented, whether for reducing crime or obesity. As such, Annenberg's parks funding falls in a few categories, including civic and community betterment, environmental and conservation, or art and culture.

For example, the foundation has regularly funded A Better LA for its program to reduce crime by promoting night activities in parks. Or the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition has received backing for its program to create temporary parks by removing cars from stretches of street. They also make some more traditional grants, such as to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, to improve facilities and programs.

Fort Worth better watch its back next year.

Learn more about the Park Score ranking system, Annenberg, and the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust.