An Emerald Necklace For Los Angeles
Gibson Mariposa Park, Los Angeles County. Photo by Cameron McIntyre.
As one of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, the Los Angeles region should be leading the country in park and recreation opportunities, but, sadly, it is not. In fact, in Los Angeles County, only 36 percent of children live within one-quarter mile of a park, compared to 91% in New York and 85% in San Francisco.
Great cities are designed with parks in mind. Think Central Park in New York City, or Boston Common, or Chicago’s Lincoln Park. Green space makes cities more desirable and improves our mental and physical health, as well as the health of our environment.
Connecting History with Conservation and Communities
A plan for the Los Angeles region that blends parks and playgrounds with metropolitan areas has been in the making for more than 80 years. In 1930, the Olmsted-Bartholomew Plan envisioned a large-scale interconnected network of parks extending around the city, from the mountains to the sea. Although never fully realized, the forward-thinking Olmsted-Bartholomew Plan remains relevant to the challenges of a vast and growing population in the Los Angeles Basin today and has laid the groundwork for what has become known as the “Emerald Necklace” for the region.
In 2005, nonprofit Amigos de los Rios began to bring the original 1930 Olmsted-Bartholomew Plan back to life and adapt it to modern times by creating an updated plan that outlined the development of a 17-mile loop of parks and greenways connecting 10 cities and nearly 500,000 residents along the Río Hondo and San Gabriel Rivers. Numerous groups have been working collectively to implement this 2005 vision, converting abandoned lots, empty street medians and other neglected spots into pockets of green. The Conservation Fund provided financing through our Land Conservation Loan Program to Amgios to help further these local conservation efforts. However, what has been lacking is an understanding of how individual initiatives and projects fit together into a broader whole—countywide.
This is where our expertise in green infrastructure planning comes in. The Fund worked with Amigos to convene focus groups, synthesize existing plans, analyze mapping data and evaluate potential implementation strategies across the county. The result is our Emerald Necklace Forest to Ocean Expanded Vision plan for Los Angeles County.
Emerald Necklace Forest to Ocean Expanded Vision
The Expanded Vision plan (PDF) establishes a comprehensive and strategic guide to creating a network of parks and public open spaces connected by river greenways and trails. The plan includes a conceptual map and identifies eight regional goals, as well as specific strategies for achieving each goal, that can help move Los Angeles County towards a common green infrastructure vision.
These goals include:
- Promoting active transportation – walking, biking and alternative mobility options;
- Creating functional and multi-purpose natural (green) and built (grey) environment networks;
- Improving public health by expanding access to nature and outdoor recreation;
- Treating water as a precious resource and as a multi-benefit amenity;
- Designing and building resilient communities that adapt to and mitigate the current and projected impacts of climate change;
- Enhancing regional wildlife and natural area anchors;
- Celebrating culture and fostering environmental awareness through education, outreach and workforce training;
- Fostering a green economy that creates jobs and spurs investment in local multi-benefit projects.
The Expanded Vision plan is grounded in The Conservation Fund’s green infrastructure approach that emphasizes identifying and implementing multiple-benefit conservation, restoration and recreation projects. Our expertise has resulted in the completion of green infrastructure plans across the country, including Atlanta, Chicago, Nashville and Houston.
We’ve also completed the nation’s largest green infrastructure network map, across 13 states. Having protected more than 500,000 acres in California, we know the landscape well, and we understand the myriad environmental challenges Southern California, in particular, faces – fires, water shortages, development pressures, mud slides, pollution, sea level rise, etc.
We hope the Expanded Vision plan will instill a fierce sense of urgency—a call for real and lasting results—across the entire county. We believe the Expanded Vision can serve as our roadmap to unite East and West, outlining how we can implement existing plans, rather than reinvent the wheel, and how we can promote best practices in design and access, link open spaces across boundaries and scales, and follow best practices case studies.
- More than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, making the need for access to open space in cities even more important for our mental and physical health, as well as the health of our environment.
- Los Angeles County is severely lacking in park space, compared to other cities of its size.
- In the City of Los Angeles, the average life expectancy differs by 12 years from the lowest-income portion of the city to the highest-earning. Parks, especially in underserved areas, represent an opportunity to build healthier communities.
- Building on existing planning efforts, we worked with nonprofit Amigos de los Rios to create a common vision for a large-scale interconnected network of green space from the San Gabriel Forest to the Pacific Ocean.
- The Expanded Vision plan outlines specific goals and implementation strategies to provide a pathway for all Los Angeles County residents to connect with nature and outdoor recreation—thereby improving public health, quality of life and a robust environment, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- The Expanded Vision has the potential to completely transform the landscape of the Los Angeles region and is designed for planning agencies, policy makers, nonprofits and other stakeholders invested in the future of a better Los Angeles.
- Safer places to play
- Cleaner air
- Cleaner water
- Habitat protection for wildlife
- Historic and cultural preservation
- Better resilience to climate change
- Improved public health
- Robust green economy