Filling in the Gaps: Mapping LA Park History
By Claudia Preciado
B.A. Urban Studies, 2012
Read about the CityNature project on the OutWest student blog. Over the summer, a team of undergraduate student researchers combined spatial analysis with innovative mining of planning document text, photographs, social media, and published historical narratives to explain why nature is unevenly distributed in and across cities.
Los Angeles has been home for me my entire life, which makes me one of the biggest proponents for public spaces and green spaces. Growing up in the city for me meant having my parents drive me to softball practice at the nearest park. That alone was reason enough to become a part of the City Nature project focused on Los Angeles parks. As part of the historical team, we were motivated by the question of how people use and interact with LA parks, through time and across boundaries.
Our research began with finding out more about the park system and how it evolved over time. By researching park histories, we hoped to find out more about why the public wanted parks to begin with (i.e. potential and previous uses). Through this research, we came across articles discussing the concept of usable parks for the people instead of perfectly groomed (stay off the) lawns. Issues of social equity and access were relevant across the 1920s and 1930s when Los Angeles witnessed a surge of parks.
From the initial research, our team decided to create a public, interactive way of accessing the information, articles, and photos we were finding. An accessible history, along with current information, on Los Angeles parks would allow others to also add and take ownership of their local parks. Creating a way to display this information became another task in the process.
Ultimately, our team decided on a website, primarily based on a map with additional features. Accompanying the map will be information about the histories of certain parks, important policies that affected park creation and urbanization, as well as the relevant social movements of the time. The city’s oldest parks were a primary focus, however, we then began acquiring the entire city’s parks’ acquisition and establishment dates. These dates would allow us to create era-based categories. With this, researchers can use this information to create a public database for park info, cross-analyze park data and neighborhood characteristics, identify park rich/park poor areas, and place the expansion plans in a historical context of park development in LA.
While the research is ongoing, it allowed us to delve into the history of a place, the social inequalities of where and why parks are created, along with working on a unique project. The knowledge I learned has already been useful in my graduate studies as a planning student and has helped in designing successful community spaces.
Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns »