Peppered across under-invested areas in Los Angeles are underutilized spaces, such as dilapidated buildings and vacant lots, which typically brings up perceptions of urban blight. This does not have to be the case, however -- through the engagement of the communities in these areas, residents, businesses, activists, and policymakers can reclaim these underutilized spaces and imagine an alternative that is healthier for the community.
The transformation from vacant lots to community assets that promote healthy activity is the mission of Free Lots Angeles (FLA). A coalition of like-minded organizations, FLA engages the community to identify vacant lots and hold "pop-up" activities that re-imagine the spaces to promote healthy uses. The founding members of FLA are: Community Health Councils, T.R.U.S.T. South L.A., Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, the Advancement Project, Leadership for Urban Renewal Network, and Kounkuey Design Initiative.
Last month, Free Lots Angeles officially launched their initiative at Mercado La Paloma in South L.A. At the launch, the coalition talked with the local community about their health promoting activities, and why they believe vacant lots should be transformed into health promoting sites.
Andres Ramirez, from the Community Health Councils and one of the organizers of the Free Lots Angeles, says that the initiative is important because "it can spark the desire to see the transformation of vacant lots through to its fruition. I feel like things will grow from there."
Indeed, in many under-invested areas of the city, it remains the work of community organizations and activists to ignite the local community and reclaim the underutilized spaces that they want to see change. Unlike higher income neighborhoods of the city that are privileged with amenities and money to invest in the construction of community resources, under-invested neighborhoods benefit from the work of coalitions such as Free Lots Angeles that work together and engage the residents to imagine a different future. This can bring attention to the community's visions for the lots, and encourage the city and investors to take a serious look at the development of these lots into healthier spaces.
The first lot identified by Free Lots Angeles is located in Watts, at 11300-11320 South Monitor Avenue. This Saturday, January 25, from 12-4 p.m., the coalition, along with community members, will activate the lot and hold a community fair, organize kids activities, coordinate bike rides, play music, and have food trucks.