Empowerment Congress 2016 Youth Summit

“The Case for Open Space” was the theme of the Youth Summit workshop on January 16, 2016, designed for youth to give their input on the needs and opportunities for parks and recreational spaces in urban Los Angeles. The Outreach program helps coordinate the Environmental Committee of the Empowerment Congress, a civic engagement program of County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Eighty-five young adults from 8 organizations participated in the event at the University of Southern California, which kicked off with a keynote from D’artganan Scorza of the Social Justice Learning Institute on the power and importance of getting involved in changing the space around us.

Urban planner James Rojas then led a hands-on activity called “Place It!” where each participant built their ideal park out of small objects. Many of the youth designed displays featured gardens and lush green spaces, places for families to walk and play, community centers, and many features. To connect students with current engagement efforts, Rita Robinson with the Department of Parks and Recreation led an activity similar to a community meeting for the Los Angeles County Park Needs Assessment.

Participants went through information and maps from their neighborhoods, and ranked their top priorities for parks.  Participants were thinking of their families and whole community when they put at the top of the list: accessibility, changing stations, children’s playgrounds,  bike lanes/paths, bike rental, community center, community garden, dog area/park, exercise equipment, pond, lighting, nursing/changing stations, picnic area, pool/splash pad, security features, trees, walking/jogging/hiking paths, and water fountains.

Comments from Mr. Rojas help to summarize the day:
“From the youth comments it was transformative for them. We were able to tap into knowledge that they didn’t even know they had!  This gives them a new way of seeing and articulating their community needs, challenges, and opportunities from the built environment they experience every day. This empowers them to get involved, engage and become the future leaders in their community.”