What We Can Learn From Parks?

What We Can Learn From Parks?

By Aaron Small

Our family finished a lot of puzzles to pass the pandemic time. The first rule? Start with the edges to give the puzzle its structure and shape.

If solving environmental issues on Earth Day was a 10,000 piece puzzle, you’d likely find sustainable transportation and the future of mobility along its edges. These two key elements are the backbone and solution to a myriad of challenges we face as a planet.

This year, the Biden Administration has ambitious plans around infrastructure. Like Lyndon Johnson’s sweeping reforms in the 1960s (Clean Air Act, Civil Rights Act) and FDR’s New Deal, we shouldn’t shy away from big ideas to restore balance and make an impact. 

So how do we do it?

The first step would be to rethink how we get around. Internal combustion engines are quickly becoming relics of a polluted past. While electric vehicles show promise with near-zero emissions, they are not our silver bullet to solve climate change and transportation problems. EVs are still cars. Cars bring congestion and traffic violence. And the clock is ticking. We can’t replace internal combustion cars with electric cars fast enough to make enough of a difference.

In Los Angeles County, two-thirds of all travel is less than five miles. Bikes, scooting, and walking are far better options than taking a car for most short trips. That means digging the bike out of the garage and braving the streets for a spin.

Easier said than done. 

To usher in a cleaner world where bikes are the go-to option, we need a safer and dependable infrastructure to allow that world to thrive. We need mobility lanes, bus lanes, and public transportation that’s efficient and reliable.

We need neighborhood streets to be places where kids can play and people can stroll – not highways where humans live in fear of getting struck by cars.

We need to make e-bikes more affordable. Electric bikes make getting around by bike accessible to many, but they’re too pricey to be popular. Big moves need to be made: rebates and subsidies – like those the government provides to prop up the EV industry – are necessary. E-bikes may be the most significant and smartest bet we can make as a society. 

We need to rethink parking. America is a car country, but the world is changing, and America must change with it. With the boom of micro-mobility options and ride-sharing apps, people are driving less. With fewer cars, we need fewer parking spaces. The astonishing amount of concrete devoted to cars is absurd; with our current housing and climate crisis, we simply don’t have the space for all that empty space.

Just imagine a world with less parking. Neighborhood parks for every corner. Protected bike lanes for our children. Pedestrian plazas for communities to enjoy. 

Like a winter puzzle, solving these challenges requires many hours, and many hands putting in the work. But this is our planet. And it’s up to us to figure it out.

Aaron Small is a volunteer at Streets For All, a nonprofit building a transportation revolution in Los Angeles. Follow him @TheAaronSmall

Green Space Benefits

Green Space Benefits

By Amanda Stemen

Climate change and mental health are two of the greatest areas of concern right now. This isn’t a mere coincidence given that our relationship with our environment greatly impacts our mental health and overall well-being. Time spent in nature, in any form, makes us feel happier, more peaceful, rejuvenated, and connected to something greater than ourselves. There’s good reason for this. Green space (E.g., plants, trees, grass, flowers) has been scientifically shown to heal our brains. We fatigue our brains with excessive directed attention, (Through urban living, busy lives, etc.) which causes actual brain damage, manifesting itself as heightened levels of anxiety and depression. Green space doesn’t require directed attention, allowing our brains to heal that damage. That’s why we feel better after spending some time outdoors, literally our brain has been healed.

Nature reduces stress and anxiety, decreases depression, improves overall mood, reduces anger, lessens symptoms of PTSD, ADHD, and addiction, improves information processing, focus, and memory, increases self-esteem and sense of empowerment, and boosts productivity and creativity. Nature also increases and improves our social connections, as well as decreases antisocial behaviors. Green space itself is directly linked to lower crime and economic growth, which improve our overall well-being, both as individuals and communities. Spending time in nature also improves sleep, decreases illness and recovery time from injury, reduces pain, improves cardiovascular and other body systems’ health, and is useful in weight loss and management. Moving our bodies in the outdoors further supports our physical and mental health. 

Since more and more people are living in urban environments and the availability of green space is decreasing worldwide, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to access the nature that provides these benefits. This is particularly problematic for those living in low-income areas (Who are already at a higher risk for poorer mental and physical health.) where there tend to be fewer parks, and existing ones aren’t always well maintained or safe to be in. Lack of easy access to nature, along with rapid advances in technology, can lead to forgetting our intimate connection to our environment. Taking care of our mental health is also something we rarely think about until we, or someone close to us, become ill.  Even then, it’s hard to know what to do and acting on any issue can sometimes feel so overwhelming that we don’t do anything. 

With all these benefits, we need to take what actions we can to preserve and create equitable green space access for all. It’s our responsibility to educate ourselves and once we’ve done that, educate those around us. Talk to family, friends, and neighbors about the benefits of availability and access to green space. Communicate with professional organizations and policy makers so that even if they’re educated on the issue, they realize that it’s also important to others. Most importantly, spend time in nature and encourage others to do the same, to physically demonstrate the value of such spaces. It all sounds so simple, yet it’s often the simplest acts that make the biggest difference. 

























Hidden Gems: 5 Los Angeles Parks that are Perfect for Earth Day

Hidden Gems: 5 Los Angeles Parks that are Perfect for Earth Day

By Amanda Stemen

One of the best things about the world shutting down in the last year has been that people are spending more time outdoors. In Los Angeles, this newfound appreciation for nature has also come with more difficulty finding open, uncrowded green space. But have no fear! For those of you who are looking to stay away from the crowds, either because of COVID or just wanting some peace and quiet, here are five hidden gem parks in L.A. just waiting for you to explore. Shhh, though, we don’t want everyone finding out about them.

Elyria Canyon Park

Hiking the trails of this park will make you feel as if you’ve been teleported to a magical land far from Los Angeles. Yet, its plant life is actually the native habitat of the hills of Mount Washington. While it’s mostly hiking trails, there are places to stop and picnic if you’d rather lounge around or take a break. There are also glimpses of downtown L.A., the L.A. River, and the Griffith Observatory to remind us we haven’t actually left at all; indeed, this magical space exists in the middle of a city.

Elysian Park

Elysian Park is actually one of the larger parks in Los Angeles and home to Dodger Stadium, yet it’s rarely crowded. It has many hiking trails to explore, open fields to gather with family and friends, hidden areas if you want to disappear for a bit, picnic tables, BBQs, and bathrooms – everything you need to have an adventure or chill out without having to travel a great distance. Also, the views of downtown and Dodger Stadium, especially at sunset, are unparalleled.

Lake Hollywood Park

Located in a neighborhood in the hills west of Griffith Park, this park is situated right below the Hollywood Sign, yet lacks any pretentiousness and is barely noticed, even among locals. It’s almost always empty with a large grassy space perfect for lying down and reading a book, giving your dog some exercise, or playing some outdoor games with kids or childlike adults. It’s also near Lake Hollywood Reservoir in case you want to walk, run, or bike around a body of water. (Unfortunately, you have to leave your dog at home for this one.)

South Los Angeles Wetlands Park

While there isn’t much open space to lounge about or play around in, South Los Angeles Wetlands Park is an innovative project in a historically underserved area of the city that is well worth checking out. A previous brownfield site was transformed into this park which uses urban runoff as a treatment-wetland sustaining resource. There are walking paths around the wetlands, perfect for viewing nature that has made this space its home.

Vista Hermosa Park

This park, right next to and overlooking downtown Los Angeles, has gotten more attention this past year, but is still worth visiting, especially if you’ve never been. Pretty well hidden in historic Filipinotown, this park has walking trails, streams, meadows, bunches of trees, a nature-themed playground, nearby soccer field, and an amphitheater.

Amanda Stemen is a member of the Sierra Club, as well as a licensed outdoor therapist and writer who loves to spend time in Los Angeles’ parks.