By Megan Baier,
The Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles is beginning a new kind of community health project—clean up the dirty and dangerous alleys that surround the apartment complexes throughout South East LA and turn them into safe, useable spaces for residents to exercise and grow gardens.
The project is just one of many that is funded by a $16 million grant the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health won from the federal economic stimulus package to increase the quality of life and access to healthy food and exercise for Los Angeles County residents.
“What we’re doing in these projects is trying to reduce disparities, focusing on the disadvantaged communities,” said Dr. Jonathon Fielding, the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
South East LA residents have the highest rates of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity in the county.
The Community Redevelopment Agency is trying to encourage active and healthy lifestyles by transforming alleyways to safe and useful space for residents. By mapping out the networks of alleys throughout South East LA and routes that lead to schools, groceries, and parks, CRA believes it can strategically clean up the most accessible routes.
Once the city clears away the trash that congests the alleys, installs new lighting and permeable roads, and maps of the alleys, residents will be able to walk safely to their destinations instead of driving. The community will be “reusing this dead space,” said Jenny Scanlin, a project coordinator with CRA.
CRA is installing circuit training equipment and benches so that in addition to safe walkways, the alleys can serve as a place for residents to exercise for free, Scanlin said.
Since residents in the surrounding buildings live in apartments, there is little space for them to grow gardens. CRA wants to change that by building vertical gardens and vegetation on alley walls.
Vertical gardens can be easily built by hanging fencing on a wall and growing vegetables in sacks that hang from the fence.
Scanlin is working with CRA to assess where community interests lie.
The residents, she said, need to “keep eyes on the alleys.” It is easy to build exercise equipment, clean the trash out, and build gardens, but it is more difficult to develop interest in maintaining the changes.