Mapping Los Angeles’ Park History
By Nicholas Biddle
B.S Candidate in IDMEN Energy ad Materials Engineering, 2014
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.
The idea of the project was to build a historical map of Los Angeles parks. Since the start, the methodology has taken many turns and the vision of the final deliverable has greatly changed. We ran into our first roadblock when we could not find the establishment dates of Los Angeles’ parks. It soon became apparent that the city was not available to help with our request, so we took our research to the archives. From there, we gathered park opening dates from Los Angeles Times online archives and municipal annual reports with reasonable success. The vision and storyboard went through many evolutions based on the visualization service we were planning on using. In the end we decided to go with Neatline, a new program in need of a project daring enough to test it out. We were up for the job and have not looked back since.
Although the customizability of Neatline is not at the same level as other programs like Drupal, Neatline forced us to focus our argument and project. The journey has been eye opening. In dealing with municipalities that are under high stress, I have learned to be resourceful in gathering information. I also learned the importance of developing the storyboard. While utilizing new skills in GIS and other mapping and visualization technology, I discovered that what seems to drive changes of the park system are changes in the perception of nature in cities. At one point in the early 20th century, nature and parks were seen as a luxury that was totally disposable. By the mid-1900s, the government acknowledged that parks are not a luxury and that they must be fully backed by the city. I am grateful for my time at the Bill Lane Center and am excited about the final product.
Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns »