Effort Under Way to Expand US Parks, Playgrounds

June 14,2013

LOS ANGELES — Public parks are important to urban life, but green spaces and play areas are rare in many cities. Many organizations and volunteers are trying to change that.

At the Environmental Charter Middle School in the Los Angeles community of Gardena, several hundred volunteers are building a play area, sanding down benches, putting up swings and slides, and adding a touch of green with shrubs and bushes.

“Everyone needs a place to play, no matter how old they are,” noted parent Jennifer Briseno.

Effort Under Way to Expand US Parks, Playgrounds
Mexican actress/singer Dulce Maria, far left, helps to build a children's playground at City of Lynwood Park, Aug. 29, 2012, in Lynwood, California.
Play lets the kids engage the world, which they can't always do in the classroom, added school principal Kami Cotler.

“They don't have those opportunities to play with sticks in the mud, and to learn the really powerful lessons you learn when you get to do that,” she explained.

The newly renovated Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County has also brought some of its exhibits outdoors. Kids learn about insects, birds and reptiles in their natural environment, partly on the site of a former parking lot. It's part of a new focus, according to landscape architect Mia Lehrer.

“You can enjoy the gardens, but also learn something, if you are inspired to,” she said.

Los Angeles ranks far behind such cities as Minneapolis, New York and San Francisco in its public park space, according to a survey by the non-profit Trust for Public Land. The Trust's Jodi Delaney said outdoor spaces are important, especially for children.

“Many of them spend one percent of their time in parks," she said. "And 27 percent of their time watching television.”

Delaney said parks are also important for adults. They are places to relax, exercise and get in touch with nature.

She said Los Angeles ranked 34th in the national survey of cities and their parks. The survey ranked 50 cities by factors such as level of investment, the size of parks and access to parks in all neighborhoods.

“Where we could do better is a little bit on access, And the Trust for Public Land is actually working shoulder to shoulder with city and county officials to improve that,” added Delaney.

A charity called KaBOOM! is behind the school playground enhancements in the city of Gardena. The charity has built hundreds of playgrounds around the United States.
Getting the community involved is making a difference, said Vaughn Sigmon of CarMax, a seller of used cars. He brought 170 volunteers from his company. He said parks and outdoor spaces are important for children, and his company and its workers have pledged to build a total of 30 playgrounds.

“It's the best place to get fresh air, get some exercise,” he stated.

The school in Gardena now has a playground, adding to the outdoor green and play spaces that are so needed in Los Angeles.