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Toward a Useful Teaching Strategy: City Park Partnerships

Last month the City Parks Alliance (CPA) held a pilot workshop in a concerted effort to develop a teaching strategy for helping park professionals learn and understand partnerships and collaboration.  More than twenty participants attended the day-long event held at Augustus Hawkins Natural Park in Los Angeles, supported by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and hosted by the Los Angeles Parks Foundation.

(L t R): Jackie Carrera, Gordon Robertson, and Dale Larsen

(L to R): Jackie Carrera, Gordon Robertson, and Dale Larsen

I had the privilege of facilitating the discussion and was supported by City Parks Alliance staffers, Executive Director Catherine Nagel and Outreach & Program Manager Angie Horn, as well as a team of three experienced urban park professionals: Jackie Carrera, a recent transplant to Los Angeles after 21 years as CEO for Parks and People in Baltimore; Gordon Robertson, Director of Planning and Design for Denver Parks and Recreation; and Dale Larsen, Professor of Practice & Honors Faculty at Arizona State University and former Director of Parks & Recreation in Phoenix.  Collectively they represented more than 100 years of experience in city park partnerships!

We structured an agenda based on surveying park partners in California to find out what they wanted to learn.  Response to the survey centered on four ideas for shaping an agenda:

  • Understanding the need for partnership; why and how partners should work together
  • Getting started by scoping out responsibilities and structuring agreements
  • Working together day to day, communicating, team-building, and establishing trust
  • Building a culture of collaboration and shared vision for the long run

And so for the day-long session we shaped our workshop around these four areas.  The small size of the group meant that we could use our time for discussion, storytelling, and sharing successes and failures.  The experts in the room shared lessons and reflected on their experiences with public and private partners.   Continue reading

The Biggest Little Park in Los Angeles

Each month, City Parks Alliance names one “Frontline Park” as a standout example of urban park excellence, innovation and stewardship from across the country. The program identifies city parks that find innovative ways to meet the unique challenges faced as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures and urban neighborhood decay. In recognition of its innovative practices in partnerships and community engagement, El Sereno Arroyo Playground has been named a Frontline Park.

“This is a wonderful example of a community coming together to see the potential to turn an empty lot into a neighborhood park. And then people in that community worked tirelessly to turn their vision into reality,” said Gina Fromer, California Director of The Trust for Public Land. “Our mission is to create parks for people, and we were happy to help this neighborhood realize its dream. Thank you to the City Parks Alliance for recognizing this unique park.”
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Managing Water Conservation in Southern California Parks (Part II)

By Catherine Nagel, Executive Director, City Parks Alliance

Continued from “The True Stars of Southern California (Part I)”

For more than a decade, California has experienced drought conditions and Los Angeles has not been immune:  the city’s rainfall has been below average for seven of the last nine years.  A number of the parks featured in the City Parks Alliance 2013 Summer Parks Tour are exemplary for their ecologically driven design and management.  Three are described below.

Echo Park 10The iconic Echo Park in Central Los Angeles recently reopened to the public after a $45 million, 18-month renovation that includes stormwater management upgrades to the 150-year-old reservoir as well as restoration of historic structures.  Although no longer holding drinking water, the lake has been re-engineered to function primarily as a detention basin in the city’s storm drain system.  A portion of California’s Proposition O Clean Water Bond provided funding and Proposition K, a half-cent local sales tax for transportation projects, provided $600,000 to help clean up the surrounding park. Continue reading

The True Stars of Southern California (Part I)

By Catherine Nagel, Executive Director, City Parks Alliance

Recently, a group of City Parks Alliance members  visited a dozen park projects in Los Angeles and Orange County, as part of CPA’s 2013 Summer Tour of Parks.  We met with experts and learned about new approaches to park management, programming, funding and stewardship.  Our local hosts from the Los Angeles Park Foundation, Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department, California State Parks Foundation, Orange County Great Park, and The Trust for Public Land led the 35-person group from 12 cities through neighborhoods, along the Los Angeles River and down to Irvine.  Scholarships and support for this year’s tour were also provided by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation.
Continue reading

July’s Frontline Park

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country. The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.

Los Angeles, CA

After the 2008 financial crisis sent property values plummeting, many cities around the country ended up with a surplus of foreclosed residential and commercial properties. In densely populated but park-poor South Los Angeles, the surplus created a unique opportunity to address the issue of access to open space and fitness facilities.


The City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks’ 50 Parks Initiative is a public-private partnership that will add more than 170 acres of new parks to the city of Los Angeles, many of which will be less than an acre in size and located in the city’s underserved neighborhoods. The majority of the parks will be built on vacant and foreclosed lots, which will help to address blight and safety concerns.

The Department of Recreation and Parks partnered with the Los Angeles Parks Foundation, the California Endowment, the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, the Department of Water and Power, and the Department of Housing to identify resources, funding sources, and to engage the community around the creation of a new park on 76th Street. The site was a foreclosed property, the project qualified for federal funds through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. To minimize maintenance and energy costs, the park was designed and built with sustainable and security features that will ensure longevity, including large capacity solar-powered waste bins, drought tolerant plants, automatic fence locks, motion-activated cameras, smart irrigation, and LED lighting.


Even though the park’s footprint is small, its effect on the community has been anything but. Since the park opened last year, property values in the surrounding neighborhood have gone up, children no longer play in streets and driveways, and residents have formed a community group that organizes exercise and arts programming in the park. If the 76th Street Park story is any indication, the 50 Parks Initiative is well on its way to becoming a great success.

For more information on 76th Street Park and the 50 Parks Initiative, please visit:

Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks

Los Angeles Parks Foundation

Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust

The “Frontline Parks” program is made possible with generous support from DuMor, Inc. and PlayCore.