Blog: Amplify

The L.A. Narrative

“Los Angeles: America, Only Sooner”

John Deasy, our dynamic new superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), recently used that phrase to describe Los Angeles at a recent convening of funders.

It is true that because of our size, diversity, and global leadership position that issues bubbling up in California often foreshadow what’s next for the rest of the country. Quite often, innovations happen here first (many times in response to daunting challenges.) And innovations from elsewhere are often adopted more quickly.

Consider these trends that started, grew, or took off here and explore a few while you are at the Council’s Annual Conference here next month.

Place-Based Initiatives

Our philanthropic response to the civil unrest 20 years ago is lauded as a precursor to the current place-based movements around the country. Los Angeles Urban Funders (LAUF), a project of the Southern California Grantmakers (SCG), was formed in 1996 as a direct result of the 1992 unrest. LAUF brought together funders, corporate leaders, public policy makers, and community leaders in a comprehensive community-building initiative in three low-income communities in the Los Angeles area: Pacoima, Vermont/Manchester, and Hyde Park.

This work continues with The California Endowment and First 5 Los Angeles, among others, utilizing place-based funding strategies across the region.

Additionally, local foundations of all types-private, community, family and corporate-are making multiyear commitments of dollars and resources. And they are leveraging their funds to make sure that local community efforts will be sustained. Foundations are no longer just funders; they are conveners, organizers, and communicators.

In fact, a representative of the White House’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which coordinates strategies to address the needs of distressed communities across federal agencies, recently spoke at the SCG Policy Conference and commented that we are leading the country and wished everyone (in philanthropy) could learn from our efforts!

Celebrated as the “Creative City,” Los Angeles is investing in multiple firsts, bests, and only’s around the arts including:

  • Arts for All. Arts for All’s goal is to ensure every public school child in our region has access to the arts. Making all the arts-dance, music, theatre, and visual arts-part of the core curriculum in L.A. County’s massive school system can occur only through the aligned participation of a wide array of stakeholders. This massive effort is seeing results. As of the 2011-12 school year, 48 of the county’s 81 school districts and 14 ICEF charter schools in LAUSD have joined the Arts for All collaboration.
  • Pacific Standard Time. A project of the Getty Trust and now a global phenomenon, Pacific Standard Time brings together more than 60 cultural institutions throughout Southern California to tell the story of the rise of the Los Angeles art scene and how it became a new force in the art world. This collaboration is the largest ever undertaken by cultural institutions in the region.

We have also been first to embrace clean energies, environmental controls and even first with tobacco-free environments at our parks and beaches. Two green related projects worthy of note:

Our Port. The Port of Los Angeles is the leading seaport in North America in terms of shipping-container volume and cargo value. The port generates 919,000 regional jobs and $39.1 billion in annual wages and tax revenues. In 2006, the port board approved an aggressive plan to reduce pollution by at least 45 percent within five years. It was the most comprehensive strategy to cut air pollution and reduce health risks ever produced for a global seaport complex. With a strong commitment to developing innovative strategic and sustainable operations that benefit the economy as well as the quality of life for the region and the nation, our port is green, innovative, self-supporting and does not receive taxpayer dollars.

L.A. River. Flowing over 50 miles, from the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley to the ocean in Long Beach, the Los Angeles River flows through 14 cities and countless neighborhoods. When the Army Corps of Engineers initiated a flood-control project in the late 1930s, it began the process of paving 80 percent of the river, thus creating the world’s largest storm drain. Over the ensuing decades, the river had almost disappeared from public consciousness.

A dynamic LA River revitalization plan is in development with river walks, parks, and different venues for the different communities it passes through. The master plan is guiding construction of a series of parks along 32 miles of the river from Canoga Park to downtown Los Angeles over the next 25 years.

Public-Private Partnerships That Get Results

To make faster, more relevant change, we are learning to partner across sectors. Our ability to connect across previously unconnected silos to get things done has resulted in efforts that are getting real-time, impactful results.

The Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnership (OSP) was one of the first such offices to be established in the country. It acknowledges our commitment to a senior level official who will facilitate collaborations and partnerships that benefit the city. The office’s primary responsibility is to build communication and partnership between major Los Angeles foundations, philanthropists, and the mayor’s office, all engaged from different vantage points and perches, to improve the quality of life and opportunity for the people of the City of Los Angeles.

City Lights and CicLAvia

Prominent corporate and institutional philanthropists are partnering with the city’s Office of Strategic Partnership on Summer Night Lights and the bicycle and pedestrian-friendly event, CicLAvia.

Summer Night Lights was launched in 2008 in several of the city’s most violent and impoverished neighborhoods. Gang-intervention workers were assigned to each site to ensure ceasefires between rival factions and provide meals, mentoring, and activities, including skateboarding, art classes, and sports leagues. The efforts led to a 57 percent reduction in gang-related homicides and a 55 percent reduction in shots fired in the neighborhoods. 

CicLAvia brings families outside of their homes to enjoy the streets by creating temporary parks, simply by removing cars from certain city streets. The events foster a network of connections between our neighborhoods, businesses, and parks while supporting healthy living.

While in Los Angeles, be sure to look around and take a peek at the future.

R. Christine Hershey is president of Cause Communications, and board member of Southern California Grantmakers.

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