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Environmental Quality / 2013

NativLA: Discover the city you thought you knew

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Nativ

NativLA is a geo-location mobile app that will provide a YELP-like experience for users eager to explore our city’s wild side. Utilizing photography and video to unveil and document experiences with urban nature, users can share as well as search for experience by region, using categories such as “wildlife”, “seasonal” and “kid-friendly” as filters. As a social network, a place-based educational tool and an urban nature guide, NativLA will inspire environmental stewardship and foster a city-wide understanding of how nature sustains life. Los Angeles is the place without a sense of place, famous for sprawl and overdevelopment, and defined by its car-clogged freeways. It might seem inhospitable to efforts to connect with nature and community. But this city is rich in nature's amenities — the ocean, mountains, diverse habitats and eco-systems, with a Mediterranean climate. The City of Los Angeles has 15,710 acres of parkland, including 4,217 acres in Griffith Park, the largest municipal park in the United States. L.A. has nine lakes and an urban forest of one million trees. Approximately 70 community gardens are growing in Los Angeles County, serving 3,900 families and dozens of commercial urban farms are taking root within city limits. There are three core modes to the NativLA app: Spottings, Nativ Ambassadors and Location Based Field Guilds. Spottings are experiences with nature that can be shared and accessed by everyone. Snap a photograph or shoot video of a nature activity or wildlife sighting, select the appropriate category, confirm your location, add some descriptive tags or comments and submit it. In Upper Fryman Canyon, off Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills, a mother and her two sons record a chorus of frogs in the rain-swelled stream beneath a Eucalyptus grove. A torrent of comments follows, which identify the creatures as Southern Mountain Yellow-Legged Frogs, and claiming that February and March are the best viewing months. Further east in Hollywood’s Bronson Park, a guide from Urban Outdoor Skills photographs lush swaths of California sagebrush, mugwort and bay leaves, includes tips on how to gather and preserve them and provides a link to the organization. In Culver City, a father uploads video of his daughter “foraging” for guavas in the trees lining the Ralphs parking lot and, like a true Nativ, cautions her to pick only as much as she can carry. Nativ Ambassadors are urban farmers, homesteaders and environmental groups such as Los Feliz Eco Village and The Institute for Urban Ecology, who are willing to open their operations to Angelenos-at-large for the purpose of exploration and education. For example, an urban commercial farm in West LA, called Wybrandt Farm, uploads pictures of their 3,000 square foot vegetable garden, posts information about tours and provides a link to local farmer’s markets where they sell their produce. In Koreatown, The Los Angeles Eco-Village, designed to demonstrate lower environmental impact and higher quality of living in an urban environment, uploads video of their greywater and solar panel systems with a link to tours (lunch optional) and garden hours. The Location-based Field Guide is an opportunity to see what kind of eco adventures are occurring near you and learn more about them. Search through a map view, list view or grid view of recent Spottings and Ambassador posts all based on your location. You may also search through personalized Field Guides, rated by popularity, in which individuals or organizations have mapped out tours through specific neighborhoods or highlighted “best of” destinations. To aid in your search, you can filter by categories to find what you are most interested in. Categories include: Wildlife, Urban Farming, Foraging, Eco Adventures (adventures in sustainable alternative living i.e. art and design), Farmers’ Markets, Hikes & Walks, Kid-friendly and Seasonal. NativLA Field Trips: Los Angeles has experienced severe cuts in supplemental learning excursions from elementary through high school. Schools used to be able to take children on three district approved field trips per class, per year. Now budget cuts have forced the school to cut out field trips completely. Even the lure of free admission to a venue or experience isn’t enough – teachers have no way of providing transportation since the schools have to pay for the buses. NativLA Field Trips, a component of the Location-Based Field Guild, are built right into the application and web presence, and will allow teachers throughout Los Angeles to access information about free and accessible outings. Teachers will find many activities they can walk to right from school and there will be public transportation routes to NativLA Field Trips taking place across the city. According to the Center for Eco Literacy, place-based learning encourages students to experience the natural world and better understand the places where we live, work and learn.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

Though NativLA does not yet exist, it will coalesce my years of experience with nature and the environment. While earning a BA in Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I created the show Habitat for UNC-CH Cable TV on the abundance of nature found on campus. I spent summers interning at 60 Minutes, The New York Times and studying with the Wildlands Studies Program through San Francisco State University. My first job out of college was shadowing an environmental reporter at CBS affiliate WRAL-TV in Durham, NC where I put together a reel which landed me my first job reporting, at NBC affiliate KIEM-TV in Eureka, CA. As morning and then evening anchor, I wrote, produced and filmed dozens of stories on the local environment, including a three-part special on Coho salmon and their plight, and stories on the headwaters of the old growth coastal redwoods in Humboldt County. After moving to Los Angeles, I wrote and produced nature documentaries for television, including Earth’s Fury, Storm Warning and The Top 10 Environmental Disasters. When I chose to leave the workforce and start a family, I created my own company called Dutch Touch Art designing and commissioning a series of hand-painted oils for the design industry, based on the Netherland’s Golden Age and their iconic depictions of nature in the wild. Currently, I am Chair of a non-profit organization called Friends of Wonderland, which raises over $450K annually for Wonderland Elementary School in Laurel Canyon. We provide the enrichment programs that Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD) no longer funds, including PE, library, music and art. We also ask, where field trips are concerned, that the parents carpool and pay for all admission fees.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Partnering with mobile app company, NativLA’s unique interface for both mobile and tablet users will be easy to touch, navigate and share. Core modes such as Spottings and the Location-based Field Guide will be easy to see and access. The focus will be on images, icons to represent actions and clean, crisp typography. There will be easy access to search and sharing features making for a great user experience.

Additional collaborators include: Annemarie Ralph, Dir. of Environmental Science Magnet at Thomas Starr King Middle School The Children’s Nature Institute LA Urban Rangers Institute of Urban Ecology The Growing Home Enrich LA Los Angeles Community Garden Council Fallen Fruit RootSimple

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

Success will be measured in three phases: Now, Middle Future and Future

Right now we have a lot of ground to cover, 4,084 square miles to be exact. This first phase of the project will serve as a proof of concept. Success will mean a fully developed mobile application and web presence, with an enticing brand and clear message for the citizens of Los Angeles to engage, be informed and interact with their urban nature.

Right now students all over this city are trapped in classrooms without any field trips on the school calendar. A test run of NativLA Field Trips needs to be activated as part of this initial phase. By focusing on elementary schools in a test district such as South LA, we will populate the map with nature and wildlife destinations, as well as have Nativ Ambassadors ready to open their urban operations to educate and inspire. Additionally we will provide the sample online materials that will allow teachers and students to delve deeper into each destination.

The middle future is to determine the business model that will sustain the project. For-profit methods include approaching investors, integrated advertising and charging for each app download. Another approach will be taking the proof of concept to an existing mobile app company like YELP and pitching the concept as their non-profit entity. Nativ could be “powered by Yelp” or something similar.

In the future, NativLA will serve as a proving ground for an approach to urban nature that will be duplicated in every metropolitan city throughout the United States and the world. And in combining a full featured web-presence with the mobile app, every user, regardless of their socio-economic standing, will have complete access to all Nativ has to offer citizen-scientists around the globe.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

According to the LA2050 report, the environment where people live, work and play is a key component of quality of life. But in the City of L.A., only 8% of the land surface is public parks and only 29% of L.A. residents live within a quarter-mile of a public park, leaving more than 600,000 children without access.

While the city strives to create more equitable greenspaces, NativLA’s mission will be to connect all Angelenos to urban nature opportunities in every neighborhood in the city, inspiring environmental stewardship and fostering a city-wide understanding of how nature sustains life.

According The Center for Eco Literacy, nature is our teacher, sustainability is a community practice, and sustainable living is rooted in a deep knowledge of place.

“When people acquire a deep knowledge of a particular place, they care about what happens to the landscape, creatures, and people in it. When they understand its ecology and diversity, the web of relationships it supports, and the rhythm of its cycles, they develop appreciation and a sense of kinship with their surroundings. Places known deeply are deeply loved, and well-loved places have the best chance to be protected and preserved for future generations.” – Center for Eco Literacy

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

Every community throughout Los Angeles will have a myriad of user-provided spottings and guides encouraging interaction with our city’s immense biodiversity. Place-based learning in the form of Nativ Field Trips will be an integrated part of LAUSD curriculum.

Today’s Elementary school children raised with NativLA will be fluent in their city’s diverse natural habitat. Inspired by community farming, foraging and urban homesteading, this generation will have long benefited from place-based learning and will be a living example of a true Nativ: one who advances environmental stewardship and civic engagement, and who understands there is a unique opportunity to connect with the city every time you walk out your front door.

Much as YELP provides us with the ability to make spontaneous and often adventurous choices regarding our next meal, allowing us to delve deeper into the various cultures of our cities, Nativ will create stewards of our city’s natural diversity. Nativs will shape their days around experiencing urban nature and caring about what happens to the creatures, landscape and people in it.

“When they understand its ecology and diversity, the web of relationships it supports, and the rhythm of its cycles, they develop appreciation and a sense of kinship with their surroundings. Places known deeply are deeply loved, and well-loved places have the best chance to be protected and preserved for future generations.” – Center for Eco Literacy