02 September 2021

Park Equity for All: Developing Critical Consciousness, Empowering Youth and Leveraging Community Resources

Written by: Amado Castillo

Without a doubt, the greatest part of my fellowship so far has been the Latino Conservation Week event that I was given the opportunity to co-produce with my coworker and accomplice Kate Montanez.

Together we were able to leverage Hispanic Access Foundation resources and the thousand-dollar Patagonia grant we were given for Park Equity for All: a community plática (dialogue), youth empowerment station, and resource fair that collectively worked to challenge our preconceptions of what parks should look like and who parks should serve.

Despite being a relatively young city, Los Angeles was poorly planned and lacks equitable access to park space especially for low-income communities of color; the ongoing pandemic shed light on just how widespread this issue is[1]. The irony was not lost to Kate and I when we had difficulty selecting a park to host our park equity event; there were relatively few parks that serviced the communities we felt would benefit from the resources we wanted to distribute at our Latino Conservation Week event. Thankfully we were introduced to Luis Rincon, Community Engagement Coordinator of LA Historic State Park, through our project work and he graciously offered to give us the space and materials we needed to have a successful event. Though one of the newest State Parks, LA Historic has already had an incredibly positive impact for city residents living in nearby Chinatown and is an immensely popular park.

We envisioned our event as a response to the ongoing displacement and state-sanctioned violence towards unhoused community members that take shelter in public spaces in response to the ongoing pandemic and housing crisis. Kate and I hoped that our event would spark conversations about reimagining park safety to ensure that everyone in the community -regardless of race, gender, class, sexuality, citizenship status- can recreate and connect with nature. Though our original vision centered facilitated pláticas and speaking engagements from experts, we were graciously offered food donations from an event partner, which led us to transform the event to a full-on grocery distribution event with tabling opportunities for community organizations related to housing and immigrant rights. It was great to share space with other young people and community leaders at eight in the morning, helping to make culturally-relevant grocery bags with nopales, ensalada, and palomitas for elderly park goers and families. It was wonderful to see the fruit of our labors come to life before our eyes as community members mingled at each of the tables and shared their gratitude for the grocery bags, burritos, pan dulce and jamaica we offered them.

My favorite part of the Park Equity for All event was getting to engage with youth at the activity station and asking them what parks meant to them. It was wonderful to hear children’s perspectives on how green spaces should be used and how exercising outdoors has improved their spirits during the pandemic. I designed an activity sheet[2] and brought markers to help the youth visually show what programs and amenities their ideal park would have. I was really impressed by their level of engagement and inspired by their responses and imagination; these youth were able to develop a critical-consciousness and were reimagining how parks should look like in response to the climate crisis and other social problems. Overall, the event renewed my dedication to public service and reminded me of the real reason we do this type of work: to empower youth and provide opportunities and resources to the community.




Agency: National Park Service

Program: Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Program (COR)

Location: Rivers, Trails Conservation Assistance Program - Southern California Field Office

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