On March 4, 2015, the City Council of Los Angeles announced the voting of an ordinance granting county residents the right to plant fruits and vegetables in the parkways directly in front of their homes. The parkways are defined as city owned land, usually covered with grass that separates the sidewalk from the street. Until now, the only greenery allowed, without a $400.00 permit or fine for non-compliance, were grasses and some shrubs. For years community groups such as activist and south central resident Ron Finley’s LA Green Grounds have pressed the city council that a solution to the lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables is to allow the community to utilize parkways and city land as gardens. Community groups argue that this change in policy can improve and empower the poorer neighborhoods by not only taking ownership of their own gardens but also their health. The community of south Los Angeles that surrounds the University of Southern California is made up of a large Latino and African American population. Both demographics are plagued with high numbers of preventable health diseases that are influenced by the quality of food and diets available to the community. If this ordinance passes the Mayor’s office successfully in can have major implications on the neighborhoods of south Los Angeles including University Park.
The lack of access to food may not be apparent to the average freshman at the University of Southern California. In fact the University is surrounded by over fifty restaurants and cafes. Just take a northbound drive on Figueroa Street and by the time you cross Adams Boulevard you will have already encountered almost every fast food restaurant you can think of, most of which cater to the student body by operating 24 hours a day. There are also 2 grocery stores, for those looking to cook at home, both Ralph's and Fresh and Easy offer fresh produce at reasonable prices. That is 2 grocery stores per 50 plus fast food establishments. Ron Finley has been one of the leaders in the “Grow Your Own” movement. He along with other activist have long argued that residents can break away from the dependency on fast food restaurants to feed them and regain control of their health by initiating and maintaining community gardens. In a recent TED Talk, Finley states “Just like 26.5 million other Americans, I live in a fast food desert, south central Los Angeles, home of the drive-thru and the drive-by. Funny thing is, the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys. People are dying from curable diseases in south central Los Angeles.”
According to Los Angeles Department of Public Health records, the populations with the highest rates of diabetes are minorities. The Latino population at 13.5 percent and African Americans with 12.4 percent. Type two diabetes and other preventable diseases are heavily influenced by diet. A change in policy is a step in the right direction for the city of Los Angeles, who until now has allowed well-funded special interest groups control over space such as the controversial South Central Farms case of the early 2000's.
The combination of education on the subjects of horticulture and sustainable health diets needs to start in local schools and practiced in the neighborhood. The financial savings and beautification of the streets can be communicated to residents who will thus be empowered to control their environment and health. The ordinance currently sitting on Mayor Eric Garcetti’s desk has 4 days to be approved by his office. If he signs it, it could take effect before the upcoming carrot and cucumber planting season.