Restoring Justice: An Examination of Green Gentrification in Los Angeles
Check out our latest blog written by Camille, one of our AmeriCorps Wetland Technicians. She joined our organization from Los Angeles! While growing up in the city, she noticed many disparities in access to green spaces between neighborhoods with more marginalized demographics and areas with lower income levels in comparison to more gentrified or suburban areas. In this blog post, she describes her observations and emphasizes the holistic importance of parks for our wellbeing and why everyone should have access to safe outdoor spaces!
*Camille posing on a hike behind the Hollywood sign.
Sunshine, the ocean, hiking in Malibu…these are often some of the images that come to mind when people think of Los Angeles. Yes, there’s a seemingly endless coastline and sagebrush-scented chaparral hikes, but many of these natural luxuries are unreachable by Los Angeles’s poorest communities as a result of a process known as green gentrification.
Los Angeles is home to numerous forms of environmental injustice, such as high smog levels and oil drilling concentrated in communities of color. One issue in particular, though, has been deeply upsetting for me to witness- the lack of parks and nature in low income, minority neighborhoods.
As an LA native, I was extremely privileged to grow up minutes from the ocean and in close proximity to many parks and hiking trails. I’m ashamed to admit that I took much of that for granted most of my life, and it wasn’t until I left for college that I realized the treasure of accessing these open spaces at my disposal.
I went to college in South Central Los Angeles, a low income and predominantly Latinx neighborhood. The lack of parks was shocking compared to the easy accessibility to nature I experienced in my youth. National guidelines recommend that there be 6-19 acres of parks for every 1000 residents. In neighborhoods of Los Angeles with 75% or more Latinx, there are about 0.6 acres of parks per 1000 residents. Additionally, in areas with 75% or more black residents there are about 1.7 acres of parks per 1000 residents. If you compare these statistics to the 31.8 acres per 1000 residents in predominantly non-hispanic, white neighborhoods of Los Angeles, there is a clear culprit of racial discrimination (Monticue).
These disparities are rooted in the process of green gentrification, which occurs when natural areas such as parks are integrated into a community, thereby increasing the costs of living. As the worth of the land increases, low income families are displaced to neighborhoods with fewer green spaces. Coupled with Los Angeles’ faulty public transportation system and the high costs of car ownership, many low income residents are unable to explore all the beaches and open spaces Los Angeles has to offer.
Knowing how green spaces have benefited my mental health, I find these statistics troubling. Escaping to the beach or a local park has been my most valuable medicine whenever stress or anxiety kick in. Studies show that spending time in nature can improve the mental and physical health of a community by up to 40% (Monticue). For example, parks and trails encourage physical activity, which can help reduce increasing obesity rates and other chronic illnesses such as heart disease. A walk in the park can also improve one’s mental well being. Spending time in nature has been shown to improve memory, focus, creativity, and mental health obstacles such as depression, anxiety, and stress (Chowdhury). Access to parks is especially important as we battle COVID-19, as mental health struggles have skyrocketed due to lockdowns.
Given the importance of parks and natural areas for our health, all people, regardless of their background, should have a well maintained park in walking distance from their home. The lack of parks in low income neighborhoods is not isolated to Los Angeles, as other metropolitan areas are victim to fewer green spaces in the least affluent communities. Fortunately, there are a number of established organizations dedicated to increasing park accessibility, both in Los Angeles and around the country.
People for Parks is a program with the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust that is focused on increasing green spaces in communities of color. Another Los Angeles based nonprofit, From Lot to Spot, creates parks in low income neighborhoods by involving community members in these grassroots efforts. Outside of Los Angeles, our very own Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation strives to maintain Reno’s local parks and aims to provide programs for people of all demographics to enjoy the outdoors. If you would like to see more equality in terms of park accessibility, many of these organizations offer opportunities to volunteer or donate to help further their programs. I also encourage you to research organizations in your own city that restore and maintain green spaces in underserved neighborhoods.
If you are unable to volunteer or donate, practicing gratefulness for your local outdoor spaces is one of the greatest gifts we can give. To be grateful requires recognizing that we have something another human lacks, and change will not happen until we first acknowledge the socio-economic divide of park accessibility. So, next time you’re out enjoying the outdoors, don’t forget to adopt an attitude of gratefulness for the ability to connect with nature.
"South LA Green Spaces Are No Walk in the Park” by Cindy Monticue
Half of the parks in South LA received a grade of an F
Local youth had the chance to participate in the BUILD Health LA Initiative that assessed the health the parks in the area
They deemed South Central LA as an area greatly in need of more parks
Studies show that access to green spaces can improve the mental and physical health of a community by up to 40%
This can help mitigate increasing obesity rates and other chronic diseases
National guidelines for park amounts in neighborhoods say there should be 6 - 19 acres per 1000 residents
In areas of LA with 75% or more Latinx (ex. South Central LA), there are only 0.6 acres per 1000 residents
In areas with 75% or more African American residents, there are only 1.7 acres of parks per 1000 residents
In areas with 75% or more non-hispanic whites, there are 31.8 acres of parks per 1000 residents
The few parks that are in low income neighborhoods are not well maintained, discouraging visitors