September 26, 2002 - From the September, 2002 issue

TPL's Greenprinting Project Aids Urban Park Acquisition Efforts

Recently, the Trust for Public Land and Mayor Hahn's office recently announced the creation of a partnership for 'Greenprinting Los Angeles.' This project involves the use of GIS software to identify the areas of L.A. that have the greatest needs for new parks and open space. Funds from Proposition 40, which may supply about $250 million to neighborhood park projects in L.A. County, fuel the effort. TPR is pleased to present this interview with Ted Harrison, Sr. V. P. & Director of Conservation Ventures for the TPL, and TPL Boardmember Matt Trifiro, in which they describe the Greenprnting project and its value.

Matt, TPL recently launched a new park-making initiaive called "Greenprinting Los Angeles." TPL announced the the pilot this Spring with the support of L.A. Mayor Hahn. Elaborate on the initiative's goals? What its promise? What exactly is the opportunity in L.A.?

MT: Greenprinting Los Angeles is designed to create new parks and open spaces in some of the City's most park poor and densely populated neighborhoods. To guide a park-building effort that could serve neighborhoods and communities of greatest need, TPL developed a visualization and decision-making model known as a Greenprinting Geographic Information System (GIS).

As a first step in this process, TPL mapped the location of all of the publicly owned parks, open spaces, forestlands, wildlife preserves and recreation facilities in the county. These included federal lands and state property, as well as county and city-owned parks and open spaces throughout the region. After mapping the LA basin's park and open space resources, TPL undertook an analysis of some of the key socio-economic conditions in the county, using information datasets from the 2000 census. This involved gathering a large array of datasets and generating different iterations of maps that depicted conditions of population density, ethnicity, income, concentrations of children, along with other factors to target neighborhoods in Los Angeles that are most in need of new neighborhood parks, plazas, and trails.

Since the Mayor's announcement of the city's strategic partnership with TPL, the project has been given a boost by the availability of Prop 40 money. As you know, voters in the state passed the $2.6 billion park bond this last March. Based on our analysis, we believe $800 million of that money could be directed to Los Angeles County. And, most significantly for Greenprinting LA, $250 million could be directed to neighborhood parks. Again, we hope to attract that money to Los Angeles and help spend it in those neighborhoods where it will have the biggest impact. In our view, every child in the county should be walking distance from a park.

Ted, elaborate on the array of services that you intend to offer with Greenprinting. It obviously starts with visioning. But elaborate on what follows and the tools that will be provided to identify and acquiring new parkland in Urban L.A..

TH: Fundamentally, the Geographic Information System that TPL has developed for use in Los Angeles is a decision-making and communication tool-one that will advance a more intentional practice of park-making for our organization in Los Angeles. It is designed to complement other research and mapping initiatives that have been pursued recently by UCLA, USC, the Verde Coalition and other groups concerned about LA's uniquely constrained parkland system.

As Matt mentioned, the Greenprinting Los Angeles GIS creates new capacity for TPL; offering new tools for strategic, high-leverage, high impact park site selection and park development in the city. The power of an urban park-focused GIS is its capacity to inventory and map complex information datasets that describe a neighborhood's environmental, economic and social conditions. The GIS offers a picture-it tells a story-about where parks are needed and it provides important clues as to where new playgrounds and gathering spaces might be most productively and efficiently developed..

In addition to the high level analytic capabilities of the Greenprinting GIS, the process of neighborhood park creation is going to require TPL-in partnership with local community groups-to engage in a more active practice of community dialogue facilitation. In concert with neighborhood leaders and residents, TPL will need to carefully identify opportunities for new parks, playgrounds and gathering places. In neighborhoods that welcome the opportunity for new park development-and which evidence an interest and capability to be stewards of new playgrounds and parks-TPL will also be actively involved in identifying specific sites for property acquisition, and work with community leaders and elected officials to secure grants for land purchases and park development.

Rather than narrowly focused, TPL increasingly views its work and services as a resource for community building-especially as it can serve economically disadvantaged, densely populated neighborhoods. Accordingly, TPL is using the Greenprinting GIS in Los Angeles to target areas with critical revitalization needs and opportunities, as well as for park creation. The GIS offers a "story board" for community leaders and activists as to where the need for new parks is most intense. Following from the community dialogue and neighborhood visioning process, TPL can then move forward with the task of site selection, land acquisition, financing acquisition, and park development.

Expand upon the value of Greenprinting and what it adds to TPL's deal making capabilities. What's useful and valuable about this tool for planning new urban park projects?

TH: For over 30 years, TPL has developed a core business capability helping communities, public agencies and non-profit groups acquire critical land resources for park and open space protection purposes. I think its fair to say, albeit a bit self-promoting, that TPL has proven a very effective servicing the park creation goals of communities around the country, especially in the realm of complex land assembly, negotiation, due diligence management, financing-either from public sources or philanthropic sources-to bring publicly significant lands from private ownership into public ownership.

Interestingly, once property is transferred into public ownership, that's traditionally where TPL's role and responsibilities have often ended. Like emergency room doctors, TPL developed a remarkable facility for "triage conservation." But until recently, we really hadn't seen our role as one that actively served the preventive health care side of our nation's land use-or should I say, misuse-challenge.

The GIS and the Greenprinting visioning capability that we are prototyping in Los Angeles moves the organization a few steps forward in its practice of preventative care for our nation's scenic, ecological and recreational resources. It advances us to a place where TPL can be a more engaged member of the community, in partnership with public entities and other non-profit groups, to bring visioning skills and resources to the table that have been otherwise unavailable to most parks and open space protection agencies in the country.

Matt, a GIS visioning process doesn't necessarily result in a park and TPL is in the business of producing parks. So walk us through the essential stages- from the visioning process, to acquisition, to the eventual design and development of a park within an urban setting.

MT: The visioning process is the first step, providing input into the dialogue involving the stakeholders. In some sense, one of the most powerful outcomes of the GIS tool, beyond the analysis, is the marketing component. A picture is worth a thousand words. When you're trying, in a very aggressive timeframe, to communicate to a community and the political and financial leadership, having a compelling visual explanation of what you're trying to do and how you're trying to do it is critical in advancing the cause. The visual creates a competitive advantage for those projects over other projects that might also be vying for money. That's really important because, historically, public funds don't go to where they are most needed.

The project then becomes packaged and sold. It gets sold to the funders, the state, the political leadership, and then the transaction occurs. All along, there is negotiation with the landowners. There's an identification of who's actually going to take ownership of the project, how it's going to be maintained and developed, and how it's going to be turned into a park. It's all happening simultaneously.

TH: In my mind, the Greenprinting LA effort is a capacity building tool for neighborhoods that have been largely unsuccessful in attracting significant funding for park acquisition and stewardship projects. As a study by USC's Center for Sustainable Communities found recently, the communities in Los Angeles that have been successful in securing new funding for parks and open space are places that already have high parks to people ratios. Neighborhood leaders that know how to work the system are the ones best positioned to attract new park resources. While this isn't necessarily surprising, the magnitude of inequity-that is, the level of funding flowing to wealthier, park-rich neighborhoods-has been a wake-up call for community leaders otherwise interested in improving the quality of life in poorer neighborhoods. With support from the Greenprint GIS, and in collaboration with a wide variety of community leaders in Los Angeles, TPL is committed to attracting a measurably larger share of the Prop 40 funding for communities with the highest level of need.

Elaborate on the potential of turning the Greenprinting process, this TPL demonstration project in Los Angeles? What are the next steps? What's the plan and what are the benchmarks?

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MT: We're ready to take on two pilot projects. And, we think it is essential to identify those projects this year so that Los Angeles can be first in line next year to attract some of the Prop 40 dollars. In order to do that, we are taking the lead to raise $150,000 locally to fund the operating expenses. This money is essential so that we can take Greenprinting LA into the neighborhoods to have the conversations, to do the further analysis and package the projects to Sacramento. Then, we need to show up in Sacramento when the money is being doled out to argue for those particular projects.

TH: The first funding to be awarded from the competitive grant cycle of the Prop 40 account are likely to be available in December 2003. Given this schedule, TPL will be committing the next 12 months to refining its GIS analysis, coordinating community outreach, targeting sites for acquisition, negotiating property purchases and, finally, coordinating grant applications so that new community parks can be operational sometime in the fall of 2004.

Ted, as a board member, could you explain why is it that a third party like TPL needs to be involved in park development? What's missing in the public agencies that are traditionally responsible for planning and the acquisition of new open space? What's missing that necessitates TPL or a third party tobe involved with the public sector in such deals?

TH: What has been so impressive in the past nine months working in Los Angeles has been the quality of engagement demonstrated by many of the staff and community leaders involved in park creation and community building throughout the city. In my experience, Los Angeles seems uniquely poised to leverage the intellectual, experiential and financial capacities of the region to affect a transformation of the community's network of parks and open spaces. But to accomplish a "transformation" of the city's park network, a great deal of resources, skills (and a good bit of magic and luck) are going to have to be assembled.

When we first set out a role for TPL in Los Angeles that involved visioning and community dialogue facilitation, we sat down with staff from the city parks department to discuss how and where TPL could add value to their on-going efforts. In those meetings, we described Greenprinting as a means of focusing and expediting the park creation process in Los Angeles-especially given the unprecedented opportunity for new funding from Prop 40. In presenting the capabilities of the Greenprinting GIS, the parks department staff acknowledged the challenges they were up against in terms of budgets, planning and operational resources. Rather than view TPL's efforts as competitive or duplicative, in fact, the city staff welcomed TPL's services with open arms.

Obviously, there is a lot that government can do, and a lot it can't do. TPL brings a unique set of skills and capabilities to the table. It can attract support from the philanthropic community in ways that the public sector can't. It can lobby representatives of the California Legislature in ways that most community activists are unfamiliar. Additionally, TPL can engage partners and professional support in ways that would be very difficult for the city of Los Angeles-or any city, for that matter-to easily and timely assemble.

To a large degree, we've found good receptivity for an expanded TPL role from the non-profit sector. There are a lot of groups doing remarkable work in Los Angeles. Compared to most other large cities in the country, Mayor Hahn and various members of the city council have made clear that parks and open space are a key element in the city's quality of life investment program. That sort of leadership is rare, especially in these days of budget shortfalls. Additionally, the Verde Coalition's effort to establish an urban land trust offers tremendous potential for greening the city. The experience of Andy Lipkis and the Treepeople is another incredible resource. Coupled with the intellectual capabilities and credibility of USC and UCLA, Los Angeles seems well positioned to effect a transformation of its open space, parks and playgrounds.

Given the challenges that face this community for new park-making-the high cost of land, the intensely competitive dynamic of the real estate market, the intensively built form of the city-TPL hopes that the collection of visioning, financing and land acquisition services it is offering will be a good complement to the skills and resources that are already in place locally. Working collaboratively, I am confident that we can make a powerful difference in Los Angeles.

And Matt, clearly Trust for Public Land, as you've made reference to, has been successful in garnering support for statewide and regional park fund measures arrive the capitol for acquisition. Now you're trying to move into the area of actual implementation, of putting these parks in urban settings, which requires a stewardship role and operating maintenance funds. What's the challenge here for TPL, and the entity that ultimately becomes the steward, that needs to be addressed?

MT: The stewardship question is critical and we have to figure it out. If we're going to create 100 parks in the next 5-10 years using Prop 40 money, we have to have a stewardship model that works. I think there are a lot of opportunities. In particular, aligning parks with other kinds of community reinvestments where there are cost efficiencies is key to the maintenance.

One really important objective of many urban cities is economic development, job creation. To co-locate a park within a redevelopment district such that the local business interests might coordinate and help underwrite and offset the operating costs of a public space that not only serves the neighborhood, but also the business interests, is a substantial opportunity.

Another opportunity is to coordinate park creation with school creation. There is an opportunity to leverage the maintenance that already happens at a school site, or a library site, a police station site, and I think we have to start coordinating with these entities and look at some pretty creative solutions.

The city of LA is contemplating creating an urban land trust, and we've talked about working with them to create a privately-funded endowment that would offset the operating and maintenance costs and essentially use that as a challenge to get the public agencies to step up and match the endowment. That's one of the things we want to do with these two pilot projects, is to run through some of the possibilities of stewardship and identify some models that we can replicate.

Let's end with this question. In a upcoming interview with Joe Edmiston, he says, "We've done a marvelous job in Southern California about preserving open space. We're just entering the phase where we're trying to reclaim green space from dense urban development." If we come back in a year or two on this issue of reclaiming urban space, that this Greenprinting project addresses, what will we see that has evolved? What can we look at as a sign of progress in that effort?

TH: If the project unfolds as we currently envision, I think we're going to be able to forge a broader and deeper set of agreements as to what needs to be done with regard to park creation in Los Angeles. We now will be able to speak to issues of equity and social justice in our park-making work with greater precision and power. We will be able to target opportunities for new playgrounds, gathering places, pocket parks with substantially greater efficiency. And for TPL rather than sustaining the practice of park-making as a reactive, emergency-room style decision-making process, I believe the Greenprinting work in LA will ensure a more strategic and intentional set of outcomes for communities of need. These are the main process and operational goals.

In terms of outcomes on the ground, if our work proceeds at its current pace and if we have the requisite philosophic support, we will have been able to acquire and help build four to six new community parks over these next few years. With an improved practice of collaboration, and with tangible new community parks, we'll be able to build momentum for park-making like the city has never seen before. Those are our primary goals for the next few years.

MT: Remember, four to six new parks is just a starting point. The other important metric in my mind is a creating process that can be replicated efficiently. If you look at going beyond creating 6 parks every 12 months to 20 parks or 30 parks every 12 months, you have to have a system that's operationally efficient, and the city buys in to.

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