Some of us are lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where we can find fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy food options within a short car ride or walking distance from our homes. For those who live in a “food desert” (and especially those who do not have a car or access to reliable public transportation) the options are usually limited to fast food restaurants, street food, 99 cent stores, liquor stores and inadequate local corner markets; and options can have a huge impact on a neighborhood’s health.
Local East Los Angeles resident, Clara Mejia understands what it’s like to live in a food desert. “In East L.A. it’s cheaper and easier to buy four fast food hamburgers than to cook a healthy meal at home,” she said. “There just aren’t many options for healthy food here.” Clara describes a food desert as “a place that has a lack of access to healthy produce and mainstream grocery stores”. East Los Angeles residents have suffered from the lack of accessible food options in their community by having some of the high rates of obesity, heart disease, hypertension and stroke in Los Angeles County.
Clara and her classmates at East L.A. Renaissance Academy (ELARA), School of Urban Planning and Design are learning how to change this paradigm by thinking critically about food justice and how to an active agent of change their community. In 2010, ELARA partnered with Public Matters (LINK) and the UCLA-USC Center for Population Health and Health Disparities to increase access and consumption of healthy foods among Latino’s in East L.A by transforming four corner stores into venues with healthier food options.The program called “Proyecto MercadoFresco del Este de Los Angeles” is part of a five-year long initiative tilted “Family and Neighborhood Interventions to Reduce Heart Disease Risk in East L.A.”
ELARA students have been working with Public Matters to learn about the negative impact of food deserts on public health and how to use social marketing, media (check out their amazing video below!) and community engagement to become advocates for healthy food options. Last Summer, Clara and her classmates helped to transform Yash la Casa Corner Market with facade treatments, refrigeration upgrades, a community garden and multi-cultural cooking classes demonstrating affordable meals options. Clara says: “After we started the project, Kulwant, the store owner, asked if we could build a garden. A total of 26 students broke the concrete in the back of the store, brought in soil and plants, and painted the walls with stencils and silhouettes of fruits and vegetables”. The transformation of the market really became a community event and helped bring those involved closer together around these issues.
When she began her classes with Public Matters, Clara she had no idea how transformative the classes would be. “We even planted our own garden at home, including apples, peaches, tomatoes, beets, carrots, lettuce, squash, broccoli, and zucchini.” As Clara points out, the root of the issue is about having access: “People in East L.A. would eat healthier if they had options for buying healthy food.”
April Aguirre of the blog I Am San Fernando has declared that a portion of Van Nuys Blvd (between San Fernando Road and Foothill Blvd) to become Mural Mile. These murals are projects born of passion, love and pride for community and create a connection between the residents and their community.
Last March, Adam Choit decided to make a video showing pedestrians trying to run across Sunset Boulevard in a particularly dangerous stretch where crosswalks loom far in the distance from one another. The video received a lot of attention from people who were alarmed by pedestrians taking such risks to cross the street – people like Los Angeles Walks founder and the city’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee Chair Deborah Murphy who sent the video to colleagues at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.
In response, the Department of Transportation has added the intersection featured in this video to a list of new city crosswalks to be painted in the next fiscal year. Choit said that he thought this was a win for a more pedestrian-friendly Sunset Boulevard and says that he plans to make additional films that affect change in the city. Choit says: It’s definitely rewarding to know that hard work and having a vision can pay off, and one person really can make a difference.”
Street artist Calder Greenwood creates paper-mache sculptures of people and animals and places them around some neglected space in Los Angeles including our river (51 miles long and so important to our city’s history!), an empty pit in Downtown and a grassy knoll (also in Downtown L.A.).
These sculptures seem so out-of-place in these spaces but they allow you to imagine the potential of that particular space and in the case of the pit for example, you realize how large it actually is in comparison to a person and all of a sudden, that large space seems more like a wasted opportunity for something that can enhance our own quality of life.
The Los Angeles region has a new safety campaign called “Watch the Road” which encourages drivers and pedestrians to be aware of one another at all times.
The City of West Hollywood has a large gay community and one of the Watch the Road campaign ads feature a same-sex family, acknowledging and including a diversity of families in their campaign. Inclusiveness can foster a sense of civic pride and participation and by the city acknowledging the diversity of their community, the city is encouraging a feeling of inclusiveness.