Looking Ahead: Streetsblog Will Examine Impacts of County’s PLACE Grants

(Note: this post also appears at Reporting On Health. – DN)

In the summer of 2008, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health awarded five Policies for Livable, Active Communities and Environments (PLACE) grants to communities throughout Los Angeles County.  The goal of the PLACE Grants is to change the character of the community plans to encourage more walking, bicycling and active lifestyles.  The grant program is the first attempt to try and link transportation policy and the creation of healthy communities that support active lifestyles with the public health of the community’s residents.

Many of the changes to Long Beach's streets are a result of the PLACE Grants. Photo: Russ Roca Photography

As part of a California Endowment Health Journalism Mini-Fellowship , I’ll be looking at the five communities that were awarded PLACE Grants to see how their programs are proceeding and how the communities have changed as a result of the grants.  In some cases, Streetsblog has already covered part a portion of the PLACE program in the community, and in other places we’ll be giving the communities a first look.  Each PLACE Grantee is expected to create progressive updates to their Master Plans or other planning documents, bring about some sort of physical change and program promotional events designed to encourage more active lifestyles.

In each case, our coverage will include a site visit, Streetsblog articles and a mini-series of audio and visual interviews.  The video won’t rise to the level of a Streetfilm, but will allow participants to speak in their own words with their own voice about how the PLACE program is proceeding.

The easiest of the PLACE Grants for Streetsblog to cover will probably be the City of Long Beach’s Vision Plan.  The ultimate goal of the plan is to change The International City in to the “Most Bike Friendly City in America.”  Streetsblog has already provided some coverage of the exciting changes occurring in Long Beach, including stories by myself, Drew Reed and Joe Linton.  As a matter of fact, Linton will publish a story on Long Beach’s new separated bike lanes later this week.

For the purposes of our grant, we’ll be looking beyond the interesting and fun infrastructure improvements in Long Beach to examine whether they’re actually making a difference in the overall public health of the city.

While the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition was the recipient of the PLACE Grant, it’s the City of Glendale that will reap the rewards from the work of Grant Coordinator/LACBC staff member Colin Bogart in creating and promoting the Glendale Safe and Healthy Streets Plan.  While Glendale hasn’t seen the dramatic changes that Long Beach has, Bogart and City staff have programmed a series of events to encourage residents to explore their city outside and move around the city without their cars.  Meanwhile, the Bike Master Plan that was partially funded by the PLACE Grant will be voted on by the City Council on April 28.

Culver City received a grant to create the “Culver City Bicycle and Pedestrian Initiative.”  The goals of the initiative are to create a city where residents, workers, businesses, schools/colleges, transit systems are interconnected, for residents of all ages to walk and bicycle safely and comfortably in their community and  to make walking, bicycling, and transit everyday modes of transportation.  The PLACE Grant funded the creation of the first Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan for Culver City.  While the City completed an exhaustive public outreach for the Master Plan, parts of the bike portion of the plan proved too controversial for some residents and politicians who tried to remove some of the more progressive parts of the plan. The Council vote on rescinding a portion of the Master Plan was scheduled for late March, but has been postponed until further notice.

Upgrading signage along the Arceo Walk is one change that's made El Monte a more inviting place to be outside.

The City of El Monte used their PLACE funds to undertake changes to their general plan designed to promote healthy, active lifestyles.  El Monte is focusing both on encouraging healthy eating as well as active living.  The changes to the general plan include creation of “complete streets” policies as well as new policies to encourage schools to use their open space to get children outside when class isn’t in session.  As for physical changes, the City recently upgraded the signage and quality of its signature walking trail.

The last grantee we’ll be covering is Pacoima Beautiful.  PB is a non-profit community-based organization dedicated to environmental health and justice, the mission of which is to empower community members through programs that provide environmental education, advocacy, and local leadership in order to foster a healthy and safe environment.  PB and its partners are developing a vision plan for the section of the Pacoima Wash (a tributary to the Tujunga Wash which is in turn tributary to the Los Angeles River) located within Los Angeles city limits, in the communities of Pacoima and Sylmar.  One of the main goals of the project is to create a series of greenways along the wash to provide places for residents and families to play (or just be) outside.

Each of these grants are different from the others in many ways and it will be a new challenge for Streetsblog to cover them.  In the cases of Pacoima and El Monte, Streetsblog has never actually reported on the communities meaning we’ll have to learn on our feet as our coverage of the PLACE Grants continues.  If anyone has any suggestions on things we should be looking for as we begin our summer series, please leave a comment below or drop me an email at damien@streetsblog.org.