CityLife brings together young people from diverse backgrounds and offers them exposure to and experiences with the Arts, culture, history and politics of Los Angeles in order to find creative solutions to urban issues. We promote educational and interpersonal practices that encourage participants to find their own voices, become independent thinkers, be leaders within their community, and develop into adults who are good neighbors and active citizens who value learning as a means to personal growth, economic benefit and social change.

During every session of CityLife, participants tackle an urban issue and propose solutions to those challenges. Middle school students have designed an urban park, created public art for a redevelopment district, proposed an “Alley District” in Downtown, designed possible replacements for the 6th Street Bridge across the Los Angeles River. In addition, they wrote “The Sacred Spaces of Wilshire Boulevard, a Guide for Kids, by Kids,” published jointly by CityLife and the Los Angeles Conservancy, and remains on the Conservancy website ( This project, funded by a grant from the History Channel, was a finalist for an award, which allowed us to take two participants to Washington, DC, where, among other adventures, they got to meet with staffers of Senator Feinstein and watch a debate on the Senate floor.

High school students created a People’s Promenade to connect the residential community of the William Mead Project with the Cornfield. This project was featured in an exhibit, RETHINK LA, Perspectives on a Future City, in 2011 at the A + D Museum. Students at Lincoln High created a brochure, Exploring the Centennial, using the school’s Centennial Celebration as the impetus to identify and propose projects that would improve the campus.

Many of our participants have had their first exposure to classical music and have brought their entire families on CityLife outings to the Hollywood Bowl, also a first for them. Families have attended CityLife activities at MOCA, again often for the first time. And all have experienced broadening their horizons by exploring neighborhoods outside of their own, often for the first time. They have learned to examine evidence, explore issues from different perspectives, ask questions and develop opinions.

We know that many of our former CityLifers have gone on to attend and complete college and are starting out in careers in education, the arts, web design and marketing. One is currently working on the CityLife staff; another is designing our website; two others are beginning to help with fundraising.

CityLife received a Rose Award from the Downtown Breakfast Club. And student projects have been featured in articles in the Los Angeles Downtown News and the Los Angeles Times.

1 Submitted Idea

  • 2013 Grants Challenge

    High School Students Shape the Future of Los Angeles

    The My LA2050 Challenge asks, “What does a successful Los Angeles look like to you?” Our idea at CityLife is to encourage the youth of Los Angeles to answer this question. The My LA2050 Challenge invites us “…to dream of the most innovative and creative ways to tackle Los Angeles’ biggest problems.” Our idea at CityLife is to offer the tools to enable the youth of Los Angeles to dream of possibilities, and to empower them to work to make their dreams a reality.

    CityLife has offered, throughout its 17-year history, summer camp and after-school programs. Recently we have partnered with LAUSD to offer an English/Humanities course at Lincoln High School, during school hours and extending into after-school.

    The CityLife students at Lincoln High School are currently exploring urban planning issues related to the proposed Cornfield/Arroyo Seco Specific Plan (CASP) for redevelopment of the areas around the Los Angeles State Historic Park (The Cornfield), between downtown and the Los Angeles River. Working closely with our staff as well as faculty and grad students from the UCLA REMAP project, they are researching the past—what was here before, what remains, what has been lost, what should be kept or restored. They are studying what effect the CASP will have on the future – on people in the immediate area, and on their community across the River in Lincoln Heights, even though it is not in the CASP area. They are discussing and proposing issues and ideas that are important for communities for all people, as well as what kinds of businesses, amenities, services, etc., make for a better city.

    Research and discussion are just the beginning of the process. The CityLife students are creating an interactive digital mural as a means to present their ideas and also to engage the general community in the discussion. The mural consists of images created and photographed by students, with explanatory narrative written by students. On the one hand, the mural fits right in with the rich mural tradition in Los Angeles. On the other hand, it brings the tradition fully into the 21st Century, with its digital capacity of actually engaging viewers. Motion tracking cameras will enable viewers to manipulate the content of the mural. By waving a hand, the viewer can bring forward information about the CASP; by moving in another direction, the viewer can see the old Southern Pacific train yard (former use of the land where the Cornfield is located); yet another motion can help the viewer see into the future to analyze several alternative solutions to an urban problem. In fact, the mural is a tool for creative expression and community interaction about local urban planning issues. Our colleagues at UCLA are developing the technology, with input from the students. So in addition to being thinkers and artists, they are part of the research team of a major university!

    This first mural, which will be projected onto a screen at The Cornfield, will be presented by the students on May 30, 2013. For this project, students receive high school credits in English and community service. More important, this entire process will change the way students approach problems. They will become hands-on participants in innovative solutions.

    Our idea is to continue this project on several levels, all the while creating different ways of seeing, thinking and acting.

    • Begin work with a summer program for incoming 9th graders, with current CityLife students acting as mentors for the new students.

    • Work next year primarily within one Small Learning Community at Lincoln, in an effort to have a broader, positive impact on the school culture, which in turn, will increase student engagement and performance.

    • Expand upon the work of this year’s students. Each project will end with an official public presentation and include the question, “What’s next?” as a starting point for the following group’s project.

    • Work toward including students in other high schools, having our students make presentations at neighboring schools, encouraging students to become involved and develop comparable projects, and mentor them as they get going.

    • Create a seat at the table for young people early in the planning process.

    We believe that by working with teachers and administrators, as well as students, at Lincoln High, school culture will improve, student performance will increase, college attendance and job-readiness will increase, AND the CityLife alums will become active citizens and play a leadership role in in finding innovative solutions to urban planning issues in their communities.