Prioritizing Joint Use Agreements in Large Urban Areas

Leah MurphyLeah Murphy is a currently a Master's Student at the University of California Los Angeles. Leah's interest in increasing access to open space and her desire to improve conditions for children and their families for walking and biking led her to partner with the Safe Routes Partnership to complete her thesis focused on prioritizing schools for Joint Use agreements.

How can the City of Los Angeles, a historically park poor region, significantly increase access to recreational facilities without spending millions of dollars to build new parks? One option is to use existing school infrastructure at a fraction of the cost of building new parks by investing in joint use agreements, opening school recreational facilities for community use, and budgeting for 1.) the maintenance of school facilities and 2.) physical activity classes and program for youth and adults at local schools.

In the fall of 2012, I began collaborating with the Safe Routes Partnership (Safe Routes Partnership) and the Community Health Councils, a community-based health advocacy organization in South Los Angeles, to conduct a research project* on joint use school recreational facilities. The Safe Routes Partnership was interested in pursuing a project on joint use because it supports the idea of healthy communities centered on accessible neighborhood schools. Opening schools for community use will further emphasize the need for safe bicycle and walking paths to schools, the fundamental goal for Safe Routes to School.

The objective of this research project was to prioritize which school outdoor recreational sites in South Los Angeles should be opened for community use given limited resources. Implementing joint use projects in high need areas will create a more equitable distribution of recreational facilities and increase opportunities for physical activity. The methodology for prioritizing schools can also serve as a model for a city-wide assessment and for other cities interested in ranking opportunities for joint use.  

A needs assessment and prioritization tool was developed to identify which school outdoor recreational facilities should be opened for community use. Areas in South Los Angeles with the greatest need for recreational facilities were based on low park acreage per 1,000 people, low median household income, and a high percentage of multi-family housing units (ArcGIS spatial analysis tool). After classifying high need areas, a prioritization index was created to determine which public schools in high need areas are best suited for community use of their outdoor recreational facilities. All 122 school outdoor recreational facilities were ranked based on need within a 10 minute and 20 minute walking distance (ArcGIS network buffer), size of facilities, and variety of facilities. High priority schools were based on high need, large size (more acres of recreational space), and high variety of facilities. An online survey was also administered to assess administrative support for future joint use projects.

Even though most of South Los Angeles has a high need for recreational facilities, the tool helped to identify the highest need neighborhoods which included University Park, the western and northwestern portions of Historic South-Central, Pico-Union, Harvard Heights, Arlington Heights, and Mid-City.

If all 122 school outdoor recreational facilities were opened for community use, these sites would add 351 acres to the existing network of parks (464 acres), resulting in a 76% increase in outdoor recreational facilities. Currently, 0.53 park acres per 1,000 people exists in South Los Angeles. Combining school recreational facilities and parks, would increase the total recreational space to 1.08 acres per 1,000 people.

Opening the top 55 high to medium priority schools** for joint use schools would add 207 acres of recreational space. The online survey suggested some schools would consider opening their recreational facilities for community use in the future (26%), while a majority was undecided (56%). Most of the respondents agreed that financial support would encourage them to open their facilities for community use (61%).    

My research shows that opening the top 55 high to medium priority schools will add a considerable amount of recreational space to the existing network of parks. LAUSD, school administrators, the City of Los Angeles, and other third party organizations should form partnerships to implement joint use programs at high and medium priority schools to increase opportunities for physical activity in high need areas.

*This research project fulfills the capstone requirement of UCLA’s Master in Urban and Regional Planning degree.

**High-medium priority schools ranked 1-10 out of 20; some schools received the same ranking score.