Parks and Park Funding in Los Angeles: An Equity-Mapping Analysis

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Place: City of Los Angeles

Overview

In Los Angeles, historic land use policies that emphasized low-density housing and did not prioritize public park spaces have led to significant inequities of park access across race, ethnicity, and income. A fund designed to improve access to public parks could exacerbate this problem unless it considers proposals for nontraditional public spaces such as schoolyards and vacant lots, because there is very little available park space in the most underserved neighborhoods.

Relevance

This research is particularly relevant in communities with wide disparities in income and historic environmental inequities. This study demonstrates methods to assess inequities in access to green space and measure the effectiveness of public funding strategies to improve access in underserved areas.

Location

This study is based in the City of Los Angeles, California.

Trail Type

The study includes all 324 public parks in Los Angeles.

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to identify which areas in the city have particularly high and low density of parks, how these densities compare to race and income differences, and whether recent bond-funded projects have helped to mitigate existing inequities.

This study was funded by the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation.

Findings

  • Neighborhoods predominantly white have more than 10 times the number of park acres per person than neighborhoods that are Latino, African-American, and Asian-Pacific Islander.
  • The highest-income residents have, on average, 100 more park acres per thousand residents within a quarter-mile of their homes.
  • Neighborhoods with less than 10 percent of people living in poverty have, on average, 87 park acres per 1,000 people. Neighborhoods with more than 40 percent of people living in poverty have, on average, three park acres per person.
  • The authors attribute this inequity in part to historic neighborhood densities: because early city leaders envisioned a low-density city in which most homes have a private garden, they did not plan for public parks and open space. As the city filled in and became increasingly dense in lower-income areas, the poorest neighborhoods had less and less green space per person.
  • Proposition K funding, a public fund designed to reduce these inequities, has been successful in awarding a large share of funding to neighborhoods with a high proportion of children and lower-income families.
  • Proposition K applications were received mostly from Latino and White areas, with very few proposals from predominantly African-American or Asian-Pacific Islander neighborhoods. The authors suggest targeted grant-writing support for these areas to make the applications and funding more representative.
  • Although per capita spending was comparable between White and Latino neighborhoods, spending per child was much higher in neighborhoods with the highest share of white residents: $45 per child compared to $7 per child in less White but still White-dominated neighborhoods.

Methods

The authors developed a spatial database of parks and matched park locations to census tracts. The authors identified the race, income, and poverty of tracts that do and do not have access to parks within one-quarter mile.

The authors combined park and demographic data with information regarding the parks for which organizations applied for parks bond money and whether those applications were approved.

Citation

Wolch, J., Wilson, J.P. and Fehrenbach, J., 2005. Parks and park funding in Los Angeles: An equity-mapping analysis. Urban Geography 26(1): 4-35.