Parks and protected public lands have a multitude of social, health, environmental, and economic benefits. Public parks support and reflect quality of life in a community. They are often where people go to get healthy and stay fit. Parks also improve water quality, prevent flooding, provide habitat for wildlife, as well as a place for children and families to connect with nature. Despite their importance, parks — especially those in lower-income communities — often receive limited funding, creating inequities in access to and benefits from public space.

The Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) conducts studies and creates guides in support of community-led efforts to maximize the benefits of public spaces for all. Examples follow.

Assessing Use of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (Current project)
Core research team: J.R. DeShazo, Gregory Pierce, Britta McOmber, Kelsey Jessup, and Joyce Thung

The Los Angeles region is home to the nation’s largest urban national park, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The park offers more than 500 miles of trails for picnicking, hiking, biking, wildlife viewing in a biodiversity hotspot, and much more.

To understand visitor patterns and needs, the National Park Service asked LCI to conduct a visitor-use survey at dozens of sites across the park. The study aims to learn from current visitors in order to meet the needs of a diverse population and to reflect this diversity in park management and programming. LCI is also working with the National Park Service to balance access to the Santa Monica Mountains for the public’s recreation with the protection of park resources, which is particularly important after devastating fires affected much of the park in 2018.

SMART Parks: A Toolkit for Integrating Technology Innovations into Parks (2018 toolkit; next phase of implementation ongoing)
Authors: Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Kelsey Jessup, Kyra Gmoser-Daskalakis, Connor Hum, Rebecca Ferdman, and Mara Elana Burstein

LCI’s SMART Parks Toolkit is a cutting-edge, award-winning (American Planning Association-Los Angeles award) guide to integrating technology into parks. Supported by The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, the toolkit describes technology types, their opportunities to enhancebenefits of public spaces, and considerations for park managers. The toolkit provides specific examples of how technology has been or could be applied in park settings. The document is organized by park components, representing the main features and management considerations for most urban parks: landscape, irrigation, stormwater, hardscape, activity spaces, urban furniture and amenities, lighting, and digiscapes.

Creating a Complete Los Angeles River Greenway for All (2016 guidebook)
Authors: J.R. DeShazo, Colleen Callahan, Kelsey Jessup, Mara Elana Burstein, Andrew Pasillas, Jimmy Tran, and Cameron Robertson

For an example of what communities can do with land that adjoins the Los Angeles River, look no further than Marsh Park — 3.9 acres of greenway in the Elysian Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles, not far from downtown. The park features trees, green infrastructure, play and fitness equipment, a walking path, picnic tables and an open-air pavilion. It is built around a large industrial building that houses a company that takes modular shipping containers and turns them into residences for the homeless. The park also serves as a gateway to the L.A. River and is one of the case studies featured in the Los Angeles River Greenway Guide.

The guide describes the experience of community residents and other leaders who have successfully developed portions of the L.A. River greenway, and provides advice to those interested in promoting a continuous greenway in their community. It features 14 case studies of small and large projects that have improved community access to the L.A. River and/or created parks, pathways, or bridges along it. The guide also includes considerations for how to:

  • develop clear project goals, strategic partnerships, and reasonable timelines; engage and empower community members;
  • develop creative project designs;
  • determine accurate project costs;
  • consider funding options;
  • effectively coordinate with numerous permitting agencies and private land owners;
  • and sustain long-term project operations and maintenance.

UCLA researchers developed the guide based on a collaborative process that involved dozens of interviews and several community events.

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