An environmental education center in an underserved urban
California neighborhood is blazing a trail for a new era of ecoadvocacy.
By Linda McIntyre
Hurtling (or inching) down the Pasadena Freeway, just
northeast of downtown Los Angeles, one doesn’t expect to find an oasis of prime
bird-watching, let alone a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)
Platinum building in a restored native landscape. But that’s what’s in store
for visitors to the Audubon Center at Debs Park. The Audubon Center opened in
November 2003, and Landscape Architecture
paid a visit last March to see whether a native landscape can hold its own in
the harsh climate of these formerly barren hills and whether this
community—including the 40,000 kids living within a two-mile radius of the
center—is embracing Audubon’s mission of habitat and wildlife conservation.
Ernest E. Debs Park is a rare thing in Los Angeles—nearly
300 acres of undeveloped land, threaded with trails and clusters of coast live oaks
and California black walnut trees, the latter deemed “very threatened” by the
state government. It’s the third-biggest park in Los Angeles, and it sits among
the city’s most crowded neighborhoods, including Highland Park and Boyle
This is not the Los Angeles of movie stars, late-model
convertibles, and shopping until you drop. The east side of the city is far
less wealthy than its western counterpart, which is home to communities such as
Brentwood and Bel-Air that many non-Californians associate with the city. East
side residents are largely Latino—94 percent in Boyle Heights—population
density is almost four times the citywide average, and median incomes are low.
Estimates indicate that about a third of those 40,000 kids live in poverty.
While area residents have always had access to the open
space in Debs Park, that wasn’t an unqualified benefit. Parts of the
park—especially the part on which the Audubon Center was built—were in rough
shape. The site, which before the center was built featured the most degraded
land in the park, had once been used as a soapbox derby racetrack and more
recently hosted gangs, prostitutes, off-road motorcycle enthusiasts, and
arsonists. Many neighbors considered it a place to be avoided rather than a
…To read the entire article, subscribe to LAM!
What's New |
LAND | Annual
Product Profiles & Directory