UCLA Data for Democracy in Los Angeles: First Research Brief Looks at Access to Parks

New Centennial Initiative project will engage teachers and students in research on issues of equality, opportunity and change.

Where will I live? Where will I work and how much money will I make? Where can I play?  How will I get there? Will I be healthy? Will I be safe? On the surface these may seem like simple questions, but if you dig a little the answers can be complex, with significant implications for the daily lives of Angelenos and the communities we live in.

It is questions like these that lay at the heart of UCLA Data for Democracy in Los Angeles, one of four initiatives commemorating UCLA’s Centennial, which will engage students, teachers and schools in an exploration of issues impacting equality, opportunity and social change. 

The four Centennial initiatives are designed to expand public access to UCLA’s scholarly resources and build upon UCLA’s longstanding commitment of service to the community. Each one is a collaboration among multiple departments, centers, institutes and community groups.

Professor Megan Franke, an expert on Cognitively Guided Instruction in mathematics, hopes that Data For Democracy will build students’ skills while building their awareness of issues that directly affect their lives.
Photo by Jennifer Young

Developed by researchers at UCLA Center X and the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access with research colleagues across campus, Data for Democracy in Los Angeles offers schools, teachers and students across Los Angeles County access to UCLA data and analysis on issues such as parks, jobs, health, housing and more. Participating schools and classrooms will have access to research briefs and materials, including charts, maps and graphs, and the opportunity to share and discuss their work through an online application called Padlet.

“This project aims to develop the interest and capacity of young people to deliberate with data about important social issues affecting their communities,” said John Rogers, UCLA education professor. “We aim to tap into the interests and concerns of a broad body of Los Angeles students.”

Added Megan Franke, a professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies: “The project provides authentic data around issues that are relevant to students’ lives and invites students to explore important mathematical topics using real-world data, so we also hope it will increase opportunities for mathematical thinking and quantitative reasoning.”

Professor John Rogers, director of the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, helped develop Data for Democracy to give L.A. students an opportunity to learn about issues that affect their communities.
Photo by Jennifer Young

Launched this November, the first research brief for UCLA Data for Democracy in Los Angeles examines parks. 

“Parks are spaces of our everyday life. They are important for everyone, and quite critical for people with no other access to open space,” said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “Parks fulfill some basic human needs.”

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, is a collaborator on Data for Democracy in Los Angeles.

Parks offer places to relax, play and exercise. They help people be healthy. But an examination of parks in Los Angles also raises important questions of fairness, equity and opportunity. Who has access to parks? Do some people have more access than others? Where are parks and why are they where they are? How much park space does Los Angeles have? Should there be more? Where should they be, what should they be like, and what kind of services should they offer?

Data for Democracy in Los Angeles partnered with the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies in the Luskin School to explore these and other questions about parks.

As the brief begins, it makes clear the entire region of Los Angeles sits on Indigenous lands. The brief offers access to maps detailing Tongva lands and podcasts acknowledging the Tongva people as the caretakers of Tovaangar, better known today as the Los Angeles basin.

There are more than 600 parks in Los Angeles, but about four in 10 people lack access to a park in walking distance from where they live. The brief offers students an interactive map showing where parks are, and importantly, charts and maps detailing what areas have more park space and what neighborhoods have less. For example, one data representation examines park access by median income

“Parks ought to be accessible to everyone,” said Madeline Brozen, associate director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.

The brief also explores the kinds of services found in parks in Los Angeles, including charts showing the percentages of specific types of facilities and activities such as baseball fields, playgrounds or pools.

To help students better understand parks, the brief also includes an interview with Lewis Center researchers Brozen and Loukaitou-Sideris.

Madeline Brozen is the associate director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and a collaborator on Data for Democracy in Los Angeles.

“Parks are important because they can be a representation of our civic values,” Brozen said. “Historically they have been places for people to come together for civil discourse. When we have places like parks that are civic and for everyone, there’s more potential to see people who are a representation of who lives in a community. I hope this brief will inspire youth to think critically and advocate for public spaces where they feel like they belong.”

There are also sample discussion questions to help teachers and students explore the issues, ideas for mathematics study and suggestions for student research projects. 

And educators can sign up for free online Padlet accounts where student can share and discuss their work. Educators can submit videos, text, and questions on the site. They can also link up online with other UCLA research centers. 

There are also resources to help students learn more about parks, and suggestions on how to take action to address park access and other issues related to parks. The brief includes contact information for local officials with responsibilities for parks, and organizations engaged in park issues. 

Students can also find articles, maps, photos and other resources for imagining a more just Los Angeles with better access to parks and open space. The materials include a link to an article on Frederick and John Olmsted, who in the 1930s produced a visionary plan for parks, playgrounds and beaches in Los Angeles.

New research briefs will be published each month during the school year. Additional briefs will take on questions related to immigration, housing, interactions with police, health, transportation and other issues and how they impact the residents of the Los Angeles region.

At the end of the school year students and teachers participating in UCLA Data for Democracy in L.A. are invited to UCLA to share their research and work with researchers at UCLA research centers.

“We are hoping this new project will engage students in evidenced-based discussions in classrooms and encourage a dialogue between students across classrooms and schools,” Rogers said. “We want to create a community through the project that will foster dialogue between Los Angeles students and their elected officials about issues of equality and opportunity.”

“This is really exciting,” Franke said. “UCLA Data for Democracy in Los Angeles can lead to more interaction and exchange between young people in Los Angeles and researchers at UCLA. It will not only benefit Los Angeles youth, but we think and hope it will invigorate and ground the work of UCLA’s researchers.”

Find more information and access the UCLA Data for Democracy research brief at https://centerx.gseis.ucla.edu/data-for-democracy/