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Community 'greening' initiative taking root in South L.A.

Open-space advocates seek to transform about 900 miles of alleys and other underutilized locations. Project supporters and residents take a tour of sites that have had successful face-lifts.

March 13, 2011|By Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times
  • Mable Everette, front right, looks out of the bus during the Re-Imagining Empty Space Tour of South Los Angeles hosted by Community Health Councils.
Mable Everette, front right, looks out of the bus during the Re-Imagining… (Christina House, For The…)

The alley at Main and 53rd streets in South Los Angeles is unpaved and littered with trash; its bordering walls scrawled with graffiti. But the unsightly scene is one that local residents and neighborhood improvement groups envision will soon be a thing of the past as a community "greening" initiative takes root.

As part of the Avalon Green Alley pilot project, which seeks to transform about 900 miles of alleys in Los Angeles into open space, the narrow lane at Main and 53rd will get a face-lift. It will be cleared of trash, illuminated, repaired, paved and decorated with artwork.

"We hope it will be one of a network of alleys that will connect the community," said Mary Isabel Alvarez, senior project associate for the Trust for Public Land, one of several organizations partnering on the alley redevelopment project.

The project is part of a larger endeavor to re-imagine and transform underutilized locations in South L.A., which has a dearth of open space and the highest rate of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes in the city, according to local health agencies.

On Saturday, residents and project supporters rode buses and bikes to tour vacant lots, parks, transit stations and a tiny community garden to observe how neighborhoods have converted existing spaces and hope to make other eyesores usable.

They will share their experience and offer suggestions at a conference Tuesday at Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center in South L.A.

"We're trying to change the physical environment so that it is more supportive of healthy living," said Gwendolyn Flynn, policy director for community health and education at Community Health Councils, a nonprofit organization that hosted the neighborhood excursion. "We're hoping to examine our landscape to see what the conditions are out there, and what are the policies that created the conditions that need reexamining."

Flynn's group said South L.A. is one of the most park-poor areas in California, with barely one acre of parkland per 1,000 people, compared with West L.A., where there is 70 acres of parkland per 1,000 people.

At a stop in Jefferson Park, landscape designer Renee Gunter told tour participants how she helped persuade the oil company Plains Exploration and Production to transform a blighted property it owned on 27th Street near Western Avenue into a pocket park.

Although the park is closed because of potential contamination, Gunter said the neatly laid stones, grass and purple lantanas are much more pleasing than the rotting furniture, graffiti and illicit activity that once blighted the area.

"There's a different feeling of green space, of wellness, of consciousness," Gunter said.

In West Adams, schoolteacher Jennifer Chafnosky spoke with pride and joy about the success of transforming Richardson Family Park in the 2700 block of South Budlong Avenue from a rubble-filled gang haven into a community gathering spot, boasting a basketball court and soccer clinics. It is now a destination for families who live in the apartment-dense neighborhood.

"It's important to have a park that everyone can walk to," Chafnosky told the group of bicyclists and bus-riding tour participants.

Inglewood dietician Mable Everette, who took the tour in the hope of getting "a bigger picture of where we live and work," shared Chafnosky's view.

"A part of health is feeling comfortable and safe, and enjoying your environment," Everette said.

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