L.A. Taco finds a squirrel trying to beat the summer heat in his apartment complex (photo courtesy of L.A. Taco; click on photo to see original post)
While hiking in Griffith Park, my friend remarked that he found it refreshing to be surrounded by so much wildlife.
“What wildlife?” I hadn’t spotted any yet.
“All the squirrels.”
Yes, the squirrels.
A ubiquitous chattering presence in some areas of town, they are a rarer sight where my friend lives in South L.A. Fewer trees line the streets there and the numerous and largely treeless vacant lots are strewn with garbage and overgrown with weeds. It’s not exactly prime habitat.
It is also incredibly park-poor — on the whole, South L.A. averages about 1.2 acres of park space per 1,000 people. Broken down by race, African-American, Asian-Pacific Islander, and Latino communities receive .8, 1.2, and 1.6 acres per 1,000 persons, respectively, while white-dominated neighborhoods average 17.4 acres per 1,000 residents (partly due to many being near the Santa Monica Mountains). These figures present a stark contrast to the median of 6.8 acres in high-density cities and the recommended ratio of 10 acres per 1,000 people.
It’s tough out there for a squirrel, in other words.
Which means it’s not great out there for people, either.
Over the past decade, study after study after study has found that limited access to parks/green space and limited physical activity correlate with higher incidence of health risks in lower-income communities of color.
Park access and child obesity rates by State Assembly District (source: The City Project; click on map to visit site)
In South L.A. this translates to one in seven people suffering from diabetes and 1/3 of the children being overweight, increasing the likelihood they will grow into adults with chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, high blood pressure, lung disease, asthma, cancer, and depression.
Yet, for years, the city did little to tackle the disparity in access to parkland. Spaces smaller than 5 acres seemed unworthy of time, effort, or investment. And, as little of the available land in South L.A. came even close to 5 acres, the area continued to go without.
It did not help that Proposition K funds for park construction and improvement were unevenly distributed, with “South Central, the subarea of the city with the second highest poverty rate, highest share of children, and the lowest rate of park acres per 1,000 population within easy access to a park, receiv[ing] only about half as much as affluent West LA in per child Prop K funding” or that Quimby park funds — fees developers pay to build park space within two miles of their developments — were disproportionately distributed among communities. District 11 got $11.9 million to invest in parks in 2007, while Bernard Parks’ District 8 received only $58,000 because there had been so little new construction there.
And, even though the Quimby funds were available, Steve Hymon reported, the city was slow to turn them into actual park space. Some council members struggled to find available land within the mandated two-mile radius. Others were unaware of how much money they had at their disposal. Worse still, the city didn’t have a viable method for matching up projects with needs. Read more…