Alliance for a Better Community – Joint Use Generating Activity and Recreation (JUGAR)
The mission of the Alliance for a Better Community (ABC) is to promote equity for Latinos in education, health, economic development and civic engagement for the betterment of the Los Angeles region. With a grant from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s RENEW, ABC has developed JUGAR – Joint Use Generating Activity and Recreation – an initiative aimed at bringing together community stakeholders and public agencies to advance joint use policy to address disparities in access to public space for physical activity in Los Angeles. JUGAR, which is the Spanish word for “to play, “ stays true to its nameby creating safe places for residents in the primarily Latino communities of Boyle Heights and Pico Union to play and be active. As part of the initiative, ABC is piloting a total of four joint use sites in Pico Union and Boyle Heights to ensure District policies support the successful implementation at school sites across the District.
The JUGAR initiative focuses its work in Boyle Heights and Pico-Union, two densely-populated low-income Latino communities in Los Angeles. Residents living in these areas are disproportionally exposed to noise, air, and environmental pollution, and face issues related to violence and crime that create barriers to accessing safe spaces for recreation. As these communities are largely Latino, the JUGAR Project aims to address the contributing factors of obesity among Latino families, who are disproportionately plagued with adult and childhood obesity in California, with nearly 7 of every 10 California Latinos being overweight or obese (California Department of Health Services, 2005).
Joint Use as a Community Solution
The lack of safe and open places available for physical activity in Boyle Heights, combined with the high cost of land and high density development, have compelled community partners to explore creative ways of maximizing public space through joint use agreements.
In the absence of other available community space, Zumba classes have been offered to the women and teens of Boyle Heights by Urban Strategies, a nonprofit community development organization, in their offices for the past two years. With limited facilities and minimal space, the class had to turn participants away every week. With support from ABC’s JUGAR initiative, a lease agreement was developed with the local high school, Mendez Learning Center, to use their dance room for the class. Through this agreement Urban Strategies has been able to double the capacity of the class and has provided a space that better supports this type of physical activity, with wooden floors, mirrors, and a speaker system for the class’s high-energy Latin music.
JUGAR’s successes have resulted from effective engagement of leaders from all sides of a joint use partnership – the school site administration, the District, and community partners– to make sure all parties understand the community need and agree on the process and conditions for formalizing an agreement. Emphasizing effective engagement from all parties proved successful at John H. Liechty Middle School in Pico-Union where ABC saw an opportunity for JUGAR to connect the school with community partners to address community needs. A local walking group utilized the space around the school and nearby MacArthur Park, which was not ideal for the group’s activities due to safety concerns. By maximizing an existing joint use partnership that was already in place at the school with the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), the JUGAR initiative was able to open up the fields during after school hours for communities to walk around and be active.
Challenges and Opportunities
The initial challenge of the JUGAR initiative, as stated by Martha Cortes, Health Policy Coordinator for ABC, was that “community members believed that if the schools were open, they would become just like the parks in the community that they can’t use, with gangs, and drug use, and vandalism.” Ms. Cortes and her colleagues worked with the community to develop a vision and establish community ownership for shared use at schools that allowed the school sites to open for physical activity, while mitigating potential community concerns.
JUGAR and ABC will continue to focus on institutionalizing joint use agreements in Los Angeles and changing norms around physical activity opportunities in the region to increase access to safe, open spaces to address equity and public health issues.
Contact Alliance for a Better Community: Martha Cortes Martha@afabc.org
LAUSD Initiative: Healthy Spaces, Healthy People
Watch a video by Boyle Heights students on the importance of shared use agreements to community members and schools