January 1, 2002 - From the January, 2002 issue

City Of L.A. Receives Accolades For Liveability At International Competition In China

Los Angeles seems enamored with continually espousing the problems underlying the city without regard to the work being done to correct them day-in and day-out. In hopes of correcting that paradigm TPR is proud to report that the innovative vision of the City and its Dept. of Rec. & Parks has garnered the City a second place showing at the Nations in Bloom International Liveable City Competition. Ellen Oppenheim, L.A. Recreation & Parks Dept. GM, tells us more about the competition, how she framed the City to the international judges and how the livability agenda will continue to be implemented in the future.


Ellie Oppenheim

Ellie, you've just returned from Shenzhen, China where the City of Los Angeles won second place at the Nations in Bloom International Awards for Liveable Communities. Give us a little background into the competition and the recognition you've just received.

Nations in Bloom is a 5-year-old, highly regarded, international competition that recognizes cities for creating livable communities through the following components: 1) Enhancement to the landscape; 2) Community involvement; 3) Heritage management; 4) Environmental sensitivity; and 5) Planning for the future.

Cities who enter this competition are broken down into 5 categories by size-the smallest being cities with daytime populations of 20,000 and the largest being cities with daytime populations of over 1 million. We competed in the largest category with the Chicago Park District; Guangzhou, China; Miami-Dade County; Nizhy Novgorod, Russia; Tshwane City, South Africa; and Westminster, England.

The process begins with each city submitting a written proposal that is judged by a panel of 6 experts from all over the world. On the basis of that submittal, cities were selected to present their projects to a panel in Shenzhen, China where the ultimate winners were announced.

And how did you and your Department frame Los Angeles for the international judges?

We framed the City of Los Angeles' presentation by focusing heavily on the Recreation and Parks Department's Clean and Safe Spaces Program (CLASS) which rejuvenated 37 parks last year and is in the process of refurbishing 10 more. Those parks are now more attractive and safer for the community, have expanded programs for middle school aged teens and are generally better situated to create positive and engaging opportunities after school hours.

Tell us a little bit about your competition. What did you learn from their experiences in trying to provide positive land use planning and management for their neighborhoods and metropolises?

This competition is a beneficial way to see what other countries are implementing. And has allowed us to glean ideas that might be useful here in Los Angeles.

One of those ideas was based on a presentation made two years ago. In that competition, one of the competitors reported on a system that they had developed to meet the demands of tourists through an elaborate system of below grade, hydraulically controlled restrooms. At peak times the restrooms were hydraulically raised to the surface and available for use while at non-peak times they retracted below ground so as not to become a nuisance.

This year the Westminster team used that theory and a modified approach to design mobile restrooms on wheels. Again they were used only at peak periods during the week so as not to become collectors for graffiti or inappropriate usage.

An idea such as that is particularly useful to a City like Los Angeles as we have so many unique special events every year that need additional facilities. And even though we've recently built many new restrooms in places like Venice, at specific peak times, we are still having difficulty keeping up with the demand. So the Westminster proposal was a particularly interesting idea.

Another innovative idea that I found particularly intriguing was one discussed by the representatives from Loja, Ecuador. Sometime in the past few years, Loja's water delivery system failed. And because of the city's size and poor economic conditions, they did not have the budgetary wherewithal to replace it. In light of that situation, the City's representatives went to the community and told them that if they would help dig the ditches and install the system, the municipality would find a way to somehow purchase the supplies and the materials.

Now, I'm not suggesting that the people of Los Angeles are going to go out and dig ditches by any means. But the critical component of this experiment was that the political leadership and a very charismatic mayor rallied the community together to recognize the significance of that problem. To be able to rally a population and convince them to aid in the provision of resources is really a revolutionary way of creating a community rehabilitation project. It's a very inspiring story of a municipality being able to bring together a community and solve a fundamental infrastructure problem.

Ellie, are there examples like that here in Los Angeles? Are there positive public-outreach or community projects that have been created to advance park utilization in the Southern California region?

The Recreations and Parks Department has worked very hard to stimulate community involvement in our parks whether it be in the form of the Park Advisory Board system, the neighborhood oversight of the Prop. K funds or even the new Neighborhood Council system. All of those are mechanisms can help create a systematic way of ensuring that the community has a voice and that our projects respond to their needs.

For an example of how successful that paradigm has been you need look no further than the Griffith Park Resource Board. All of the major stakeholders of Griffith Park are involved-Rec. and Parks, the zoo, the Autry Museum, the merry-go-round operators, the Sierra Club, the Los Feliz Improvement Association, etc. As a group, they have come together to be effective advocates and partners in everything from the replacement of the Griffith Park water system to signage, clean-up projects and even RFP evaluation. That kind of community empowerment helps us utilize the resources that a great city like Los Angeles can provide.

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Let's flesh out the park bond component of your answer a little more. In the last decade, we've seen 2 County park bond measures, a City park bond measure and a State park bond measure approved. How integral to your agenda are those mechanisms? And was there any new investment paradigm that you learned about in Shenzhen?

It's funny that you mention bond funding. The portion of our presentation on bond finance made us the envy of many of the cities in attendance. The ability to have that type of secured revenue source is something that many of these municipalities don't have the capacity or haven't had the opportunity to utilize.

The visionary leadership and support that community members voiced when they supported the passage of Prop. K in the city, Prop. A 1 and 2 in the county, Prop. 12 in the state, and hopefully this next park bond in March, represents an important part of our ability to envision and create great parks in the basin.

Has it made a difference in L.A.? Absolutely. Look at all the facilities we've created-the new recreation centers, the new child care centers, the new gyms, etc.

Has it given us everything we need to meet the needs of the community? No. We're still relatively park-poor in terms of the amount of acres we have to serve our densest communities. But forward thought and vision such as what was voiced by voters is an enormous step in attempting to address the need for recreation and parks in L.A.

Ellie, your responsibilities are so broad in L.A. and range from open space management to preservation. One of the other categories in the Nations in Bloom competition was heritage management. Talk a little bit about that responsibility in light of the plans to renovate and expand both the Griffith Park Observatory and the Barnsdall Art Park.

In its 66 years of operation, some 70 million people have come through the doors of the observatory-not counting all of the ones who come to the top of the hill just to gaze at the night sky. That renovation combined with the Barnsdall Art Park's current restoration and the rehabilitation of the historic Hollyhock house is very important.

This City has over 600 cultural and historic monuments, a significant number of which are in our recreation and/or park facilities. We care a lot about that and as such one of our goals is to restore our history and heritage. We have a responsibility to the current and future residents of this city to ensure that we have protected their needs.

Those two projects are wonderful examples of how the city is making an investment in terrific facilities that provide fabulous learning and leisure opportunities for millions of Angelenos. I've heard lots of stories of young couples who went to the observatory to enjoy the scenic vista of the city and the sky and now bring their children and grandchildren there. This is a chance for us to further that for many years to come.

You mention the major renovation projects in which the Department is currently involved. Blend that with our discussion of bond finance and give our readers a sense of how that bond will specifically help you to provide facilities here in Los Angeles.

Over the last 30 years, state bond funding has typically provided a very significant amount of the capital for recreation and park facilities improvements. That funding dried up in much of the ‘80s and ‘90s, but returned with the successful passage of Prop. 12.

That proposition's passage was reflective of the broad realization that residents want, need and demand park facilities that are accessible to all members of the community. This new park bond, much like Prop. 12, is another measure that will allow us to significantly expand, improve and enhance recreation and park facilities for all our residents' use.

Let's close with this, Ellie. All politics are local. There is a new Mayor, Council and a mostly new Commission for Recreation and Parks. Is the agenda we've been talking about in this conversation going to be well-received by the new Administration and Recreation and Parks Commission?

In terms of the rejuvenation, expansion and enhancement of recreation and park facilities, the agenda we've discussed is very compatible with the agenda of the Commission and the new Administration. I think all of that falls under the umbrella of truly providing a more livable community for the residents of L.A. The Nations in Bloom award solidified that. We are making strides to provide that, and the passage of another bond measure can only help us as we attempt to complement our existing recreation and open space with new facilities and additional community engagement.

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