Hi friends!

At this time of year, many of us are getting outside to enjoy fresh air and fun. But for some of us, there simply isn’t anywhere to do that. Take Kibera, which has a population density about four times higher than Manhattan and almost no open space. Or the low-income neighborhood of Watts in L.A., which has 1.1 acres of park land per person – about 6 times less than Brentwood, where the life expectancy is 12 years longer.

Public space isn’t a luxury or a “nice thing to have” – it’s essential for public health, child development, and social cohesion. Here are some updates on how we're overcoming environmental, political, and financial hurdles to bring public spaces to the communities that need it most.

Clean water, safety, and good health are among the most basic of human needs. But the community of Andolo, perched along the banks of the River Ngong in Kibera, faces regular flooding, crime, and poor sanitation.  
Formally opened on 30th June, Kibera Public Space Project 10 (KPSP10) shows how public space can be the answer to these problems: transforming a formerly polluted, flood-prone section of the riverbank - one of Kibera’s few vacant spaces - into a beautiful, safe public space for kids and adults alike to enjoy.

KPSP10 was designed through a series of workshops over 6 months, in which the local Andolo Bridge Community group worked with KDI and other local residents to co-develop a space that would fulfil their three goals:  a clean and safe environment, access to education and economic empowerment, and peace and social cohesion.

Stone gabions protect the riverbank from erosion, helping safeguard the space and surrounding area from flooding. Children have a playground complete with a climbing frame and swing, and can play safely under the supervision of adults washing clothes at the adjacent laundry pad. 
A water point provides residents with convenient access to potable water while generating income for the Andolo Bridge Community group. Finally, an open seating area serves as a gathering space where conversation flows and ideas are exchanged, promoting a more cohesive community.

KPSP10 is funded under the Community Responsive Adaptation to Flooding project with Stockholm University.

Ever looked over into a dilapidated vacant lot in your neighborhood and thought “That could be such a great place to hang out – if only we could get inside and do something nice with it!”?
Adopt-A-Lot is a groundbreaking new pilot program developed by the Free Lots Angeles coalition that will give community groups the keys to vacant lots through a simple application process. Through KDI, the coalition’s design lead, community groups can now “adopt” one of up to 10 pilot lots for a 3, 6, or 12-month period and turn it into a vibrant space for gathering, sports, recreation and more.

Above: the prototype "Plane" in progress

To help residents set the stage for the programming and activities they think will best serve their community, our design team has created a set of mobile, lightweight furnishings called “Planes”, which can be screwed or slotted together quickly and easily to make benches, boxes, stages, obstacle courses, shade structures, soccer goals, and more.
The first adopted lot is located in North Hills, a small neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. Local residents will soon vote on the amenities they want to create on the lot, which may include a community garden or therapeutic garden for seniors with lots of seating, shade, and space for board games. Meanwhile, we are working with a community group in Watts to develop ideas for the second adopted lot!

Residents will not only turn these under-used resources into vibrant public spaces on an immediate basis, but also test out different options for permanent transformation of the lots and demonstrate to the city that they are capable and passionate stewards of public land. We can’t wait to see where the pilot leads us! 

Last year, Californians voted to pass Proposition 68 and direct $1 billion in funding towards parks and green spaces in high-need neighborhoods – amazing news given that 1 in 4 Californians do not currently have access to parks and the critical benefits they provide.
However, KDI and our partner Public Health Advocates (PHAdvocates) soon spotted a problem – many of California’s most high-need, park-poor communities are in low-income cities that might not have the capacity to submit competitive proposals to win funding.

To help make sure the money goes where it is most needed, KDI and PHAdvocates have been working over the past year to help 11 under-resourced municipalities throughout California apply for Prop 68 funding to create and renovate parks in high-need neighborhoods.

As well as providing municipalities with technical assistance in community engagement and concept design for 12 park projects, KDI and PHAdvocates developed and disseminated a toolkit to cities across California, detailing how to carry out a community-led design process that will support competitive funding proposals.

With engagements and concept drawings wrapping up and our partner municipalities preparing to submit their proposals, we are excited to see the impacts of our first project at the statewide scale. It not only combats inequity at a high level, but also demonstrates the power of community-led design to our municipal partners and builds their capacity to carry out similar processes in the future. All in all, the future is looking brighter for park-poor Californians!

And finally...
  • Huge thanks to James Folsom, Director of the Botanical Gardens at the Huntington, who just took the LA team on a fascinating tour around the grounds. Highlights included the tranquil Japanese garden and lush kitchen garden. Thank you James!
  • Shout-out to the Vijana Usafi na Maendeleo (VUMA) group who joined KDI Kenya for a friendly football/soccer match last week – rematch soon?

Enjoy the rest of July and expect more updates from us soon. In the meantime, if you want to support KDI’s efforts to bring public space to the people that need it most, you can donate below. Thank you!

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Kounkuey Design Initiative
2355 Westwood Blvd. #717
Los Angeles, CA 90064