2022 Grants Challenge

Watts Greenspace Project: commUNITY gardens

"Watts GreenSpace Project: commUNITY gardens" is a unique public-private approach to improve outdoor equity in LA Public Housing. By creating small public greenspaces along with community programs needed to support them, this project is transforming weed-infested, concrete, trash-strewn landscapes in Watts Public Housing and promoting Unity in the diverse communities living there. This project addresses the challenges of creating/maintaining greenspaces in Public Housing and the need to increase outdoor equity in vulnerable LA neighborhoods.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Green Space, Park Access, and Trees

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

South LA

Other:: Watts


In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

With the rising threat of climate change, the need for greenspaces in underserved neighborhoods is more important than ever. Nowhere is this more critical and more complicated than in LA Public Housing in Watts. Like many urban renewal projects in '40s, the Imperial Courts Project in Watts was designed with hardscape playgrounds and sports courts but little attention to greenspaces. Today the few grass areas are now weed-infested, dirt and liter wastelands; the nearest park requires crossing train tracks and rival gang territories to get there; and many trees planted in 1944 were cut down after the 1965 Watts Riots for LAPD helicopter visibility and never replaced. Due to strict public housing rules, residents are not permitted to plant gardens. And it’s cost-prohibitive for Housing Authority to create greenspaces with their aging building maintenance issues and limited budgets. There's no greater example of outdoor inequity in LA and no greater need for greenspaces that in Watts.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

GreenSpacesLA seeks to expand our "Watts Greenspace Project: commUNITY gardens" to create our second significant greenspace at Watts Imperial Courts Housing. Funds will allow us to transform an abandoned 8,000 sq. ft. area behind the Watts Empowerment Center. Currently, the area is weed-infested dirt, with gopher-holes, blowing litter/trash and no trees or plants, yet it lies at the heart of the housing development. The area is adjacent to a community softball field, and our plans for this greenspace pocket-park are inspired by the new gardens designed at Dodger Stadium by landscape manager, Chaz Perea. His vision was to introduce fans to the beauty of California native plants. We want to do the same with Unity Park in Watts. Unity Park will be our second greenspace in Imperial Courts. Our first is Unity Gardens, a one-year, $30K renovation of a 2,500 sq ft community garden, completed March 2022. It’s a short walk from the Unity Park site and began with an extensive cleanup, removing 40 bags of garbage and weeds. With community leaders, we designed a new garden, installed solar-powered irrigation and planted over 80 native plants to attract pollinators. We installed 3 shade trees, wood benches, 8 fruit trees, and conversation pit with butterfly garden. Most importantly, we developed a successful maintenance strategy with our GSLA crew, HACLA, and residents through our Unity Days and kids nature club. We plan to apply this proven and successful approach to Unity Park.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

Residents of Imperial Courts Housing in Watts live in the most densely populated area in LA county (17,346 people per sq mile) at the intersection of the Bloods and Crips gang territories. Residents are mostly Black (37%) and Latino (61%). Per capita income is $11,085 and 39% live below the poverty line. 38% are under 18 yrs old. 95.3% receive free or reduced-priced school meals, and 39% are single parents. Access to greenspaces in neighborhoods like this has been shown to increase community safety, reduce litter, reduce healthcare costs, promote social cohesion and cooperation among diverse residents. Overall our work will do the following for LA County: • Beautify and improve public housing • Improve community safety • Mitigate urban heat island effect • Enhance public health • Promote cultural connection and community • Teach the importance of conservation and climate change • Reduce the amount of debris within public right-of-way • Advance equity for underserved communities

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

We define success with community feedback and observations: our first commUNITY garden in Watts is having a big impact already. Residents tell us they feel more connected to each other and are motivated to keep other parts of their neighborhood clean because of this new garden. Parents tell us they love seeing their kids play in the safety of the Unity Garden, instead of on the streets. Kids tell us the best part is seeing butterflies in person for the first time, collecting rolly-polly bugs, and tasting cucumbers and snap peas right off the vines. The proposed Unity Park will amplify the success of our existing Watts Greenspace Project by creating a second garden with 3x more environmentally-conscious greenspace that provides easily accessible nature experiences for residents of all ages. Not to mention transforming another weed-infested, concrete, trash-filled wasteland at the heart of Imperial Courts while continuing to grow unity among an historically divided population.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 2,940

Indirect Impact: 6,227