Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Summer socialising in parks: assimilating LA's gangs Over on the Making places blog, Karen Levy reports on a new approach to gang violence in Los Angeles, by changing the ways in which parks are used. The Summer Night Lights scheme began in eight parks last year, extending hours until midnight and sponsoring night-time movies and family-oriented activities four nights a week. (Image: LA Times). According to the mayor’s office, the program was responsible for a 17% decline in crime rates and an astounding 86% decline in homicides for those areas. This year a total of sixteen parks will be part of the programme, with plans to serve 350,000 free dinners over the course of the summer. Activities on offer include basketball and soccer leagues, safe skateboarding programs, screening of local films, and acting, dance, hip-hop, and fashion workshops. One component of the program is the creation of a ten-member “youth squad” for each park, which will assist in staffing events and help to create neighborhood awareness. Summer Night Lights is being sponsored by $1 million in private donations, which the city has pledged to match – a great example of the power of public-private partnerships in community placemaking. The city has suspended injunctions for gang members peacefully attending these events: By allowing these youths to socialize freely in the park with other community members, L.A. is recognizing that providing positive options is an essential tool in improving urban neighborhoods. As gang intervention worker Miguel Leon told the New York Times: 'You can rewrite the narrative of your life and your neighborhood. A gang affiliation is not your whole identity. You’re also part of this community.' And good luck to them. Turning back to read what Jane Jacobs had to say - always concerned that people didn't over-romanticise the role of parks - I find her dismissive of the idea that parks could be 'community anchors': 'Parks are not automatically anything, and least of all... stabilizers of values or of their neighbourhoods or districts.' Meanwhile, Planning resource reports an increase in weekly use of green space in Scotland from 49 per cent to 63 per cent over five years.

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