Northeast Los Angeles Placemaking Competition: Frogtown Ribbon Gardens

Project submitted by Tim Bevins

Project designed for Elysian Valley


Project Summary and Scale

The Frogtown Ribbon Gardens proposal is an exercise in placemaking through community ownership of underutilized spaces. It aims to transform lost public space - the commonly barren planter strips in front of most houses in Elysian Valley - into useable areas for food production using a series of planting structures ranging from simple planter beds to raised tree planters with built in storage units. These structures vary in size and complexity, but as this is intended to be a community-driven DIY initiative, all have been designed with ease of construction as a primary concern. Given this consideration, this proposal is readily implementable with a short timeline and a relatively small budget. The scale for this proposal is initially at the street level, focusing on Knox Avenue in particular, because of its access to the river through Gateway Park. As the Ribbon Gardens project gains momentum, it will grow to include other streets in the neighborhood, forming a robust network of community food production. This is to say that as a whole, the proposal can be understood as a neighborhood scale intervention that operates at the block level.

Elysian Valley meets the USDA's criteria for a food desert - it is a low-income neighborhood where most of its residents live more than half a mile from the nearest market, a significant concern in this automobile dependent neighborhood. Responding to this significant issue, the neighborhood banded together and founded a community garden in 2010 at the corner of Blake Avenue and Rich Street. Recognizing the need of the community and its willingness to take food access issues into their own hands, the Frogtown Ribbon Gardens proposal leverages this effort and further expands food production within the community. The construction and installation of these structures are meant to act as a catalyst for further community engagement around the issue of food access. Moving forward we envision a series of precut kits for each of the planting elements available to the community enabling residents to transform the space in front of their houses with little more than a power drill. In addition to increasing food production in this food desert, Frogtown Ribbon Gardens also contribute to an active street life, and helps promote community identity.


Why are you committed to this project?

Global Green USA is a national environmental non-profit located in Santa Monica focused on developing creative solutions that engender more economically, ecologically and socially sustainable communities. The Frogtown Ribbon Gardens proposal represents an opportunity to provide our vision and expertise to a vibrant community in our own backyard.


What are the most relevant characteristics of project site and scale?

A series of planting structures installed in barren planter strips along Knox Avenue. As this is intended as a community-driven DIY initiative, all structures have been designed with ease of construction as a primary concern. The most relevant impetus propelling this proposal is twofold: Elysian Valley is a USDA identified food desert, and the neighborhood has signified its desire to do something about this with the establishment of the Elysian Valley Community Garden in 2010.


Describe how this project will reinforce a sense of place or enhance the built environment.

Many of the planter strips found in Elysian Valley are characterized by crabgrass and missing street trees. Additionally, despite its proximity and relative ease of access, the LA River Greenway Trail remains largely an entity separate from the neighborhood. The Frogtown Ribbon Gardens proposal is located along Knox Avenue specifically due to its access to the river through Gateway Park. The unified design behind each of the planting elements coupled with the repurposing of what currently stands as lost space into productive community assets simultaneously reinforce a sense of place within the community and help bring identity to the neighborhood.


Provide a description of the project's necessary planning activities.

Planning activities associated with this project primarily revolve around two elements: 1) finding homeowners interested in having access to fresh and free produce by installing a Ribbon Garden in front of their house, and 2) securing community support to assist with construction. These goals could be met by hosting stakeholder meetings to describe the project, its benefits and its vision for Elysian Valley's future. In this regard, the Elysian Valley Community Garden is an indispensible asset that can be leveraged to generate enthusiasm for participation and gain stakeholder support.


What is a rough estimate of your project budget?

As each of the planting elements in this proposal are relatively simple to construct, made of readily available inexpensive materials, and intended to be constructed in a DIY fashion by community members, the cost per planter is relatively low. A rough estimate for the design, construction, installation and planting of a demonstration project of around 7 structures is about $5,000.


How does this project leverage existing resources and efforts?

Despite being located in a food desert, Elysian Valley residents have rallied together to promote access to healthy food, with the establishment of a .25-acre community garden in 2010. This community driven effort simultaneously signals a desire for access to healthy produce and a demonstrated ability to self-organize to achieve this vision. The need and demand for fresh fruit and vegetables in Elysian Valley, however, far outstrips the production capacity of its community garden. By transforming spaces in front of community member's houses into productive gardens, a new opportunity for food access is introduced to the neighborhood. In addition to these efforts, the Frogtown Ribbon Gardens proposal leverages momentum building around the river through Mayor Garcetti's efforts to restore the River and its surrounding communities. Finally, the City is writing a Health and Wellness Element of the General Plan, which will give specific attention to food access issues.


What community need is your project serving?

The USDA has identified Elysian Valley as a food desert, meaning that it is a low-income area where a significant share of residents is more than half a mile from the nearest market. Access to fresh and healthy food has been identified as one of the key indicators in many health issues in the American populace, and by empowering residents of Elysian Valley with the capacity to grow their own, the Frogtown Ribbon Gardens proposal continues already established community momentum in this vein.


If your project is realized, what does success look like?

The successful implementation of the Frogtown Ribbon Gardens proposal looks like a community that has taken food access into their own hands. It looks like blocks filled with people, trees and food. The final vision for this project is the sum of its parts. Beginning with a demonstration installation of about 7 repurposed street planters, and adding to the momentum already generated by the neighborhood's community garden, Elysian Valley residents can promote a healthier lifestyle with readily available fruits and vegetables.
Visual Representation of Project. Site plans optional.


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