play / 2015

FREE LOTS ANGELES: Transforming Vacant Lots into Neighborhood Assets

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT), Leadership for Urban Renewal (LURN), TRUST South LA, Konkuey Design Initiative (KDI), Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, Community Health Councils (CHC)

Free Lots Angeles (FLA), a project of six organizations, works with communities to transform vacant lots into health-promoting neighborhood resources such as community gardens, parks, and mobility hubs. FLA organizes “pop-ups” on vacant lots and helps change City policy to allow for Angelenos to access city-owned vacant land in their neighborhoods, especially in places where there are not enough places to PLAY.


In what areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • San Fernando Valley
  • City of Los Angeles

How do you plan to use these resources to make change?

  • Conduct research
  • Engage residents and stakeholders
  • Implement a pilot or new project
  • Expand a pilot or a program
  • Mobilize for systems change
  • Advocate with policymakers and leaders
  • Implement and track policy

How will your proposal improve the following “Play” metrics?

  • Access to open space and park facilities
  • Per capita crime rates
  • Percentage of residents that feel safe in their neighborhoods
  • Residents within 1⁄4 mile of a park (Dream Metric)
  • Number of residents with easy access to a “vibrant” park (Dream Metric)
  • Number of parks with intergenerational play opportunities (Dream Metric)
  • Number (and quality) of informal spaces for play (Dream Metric)

Describe in greater detail how you will make LA the best place to play.

LA is one of the most active cities in the world, but also home to thousands of vacant lots which are lost opportunities to promote healthy and safe PLAY in park-poor communities. These lots often attract trash and crime, and sometimes even negatively impact the vibrancy of the surrounding area. Free Lots Angeles (FLA) flips the script on vacant lots being a problem into a solution. By transforming vacant land into vibrant neighborhood destinations we’re assisting communities in creating long term realities for health and wellness. With a model that we’ve already piloted four times, community expertise, and strong relationships we’re confident that with your help we can make LA a better place to PLAY for everyone.

To accomplish this, FLA will organize pop-ups on vacant lots in low-income “play-deserts” of LA. These one-day events are the culmination of many hours of community organizing around a target vacant lot. Neighbors come together to identify vacant lots, discuss challenges, and with the help of designers, generate ideas to improve the lot. While these workshops are focused on producing a one-day event, data gathered creates a jumpstart to the development of permanent, community-serving transformation.

However, FLA won’t stop there. We know first hand that to make real impact on the lack of play for some neighborhoods, systems and policies need to be changed and we’ve got just the road map to get LA there. There are approximately 2300 vacant lots owned by the City of LA totalling the size of 4,550 football fields. That’s a lot of lost PLAY! This is an estimate that members of our coalition have painfully stitched together across many outdated and inaccessible sources. Needless to say, understanding the process for transforming a lot is sometimes even more difficult for residents. In response, FLA is developing an advocacy campaign to create new systems within the City to publicize city-owned vacant lots and create a simple process that can be used by everyone to get access to city-owned vacant land for the development of healthy places like parks, gardens, and mobility hubs. These tools will help Angelenos not only identify city-owned lots in their community, but also transform them. That means more play for everyone.

Along with your support, FLA’s dynamic coalition of six partners and it’s strong relationships with communities, Councilmembers, and the Mayor is primed to make big impact on PLAY.

Please explain how you will evaluate your work.

Free Lots Angeles will evaluate its effectiveness in the following ways:

1) The successful production of three pop-up events on vacant lots in low-income areas of the City; 2) The introduction and institutionalization of City policy that will aggregate all City-owned vacant lots into one publicly-accessible database; and 3) The development of a standard right of entry permit and/or lease agreements that could be used by community members to activate a vacant lot.

These goals are monitored by weekly meetings with program staff from each of the Free Lots Angeles partner organizations as well as separate senior-level meetings that take place every month with Executive Directors. These meetings help cultivate strong communication between each organization and also help maintain accountability on agreed upon goals.

How can the LA2050 community and other stakeholders help your proposal succeed?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Network/relationship support