Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Playgrounds Could Be Parks

I live on what's called "the Westside" of Los Angeles. Our local schools are in the 600 school Los Angeles Unified School District. My local elementary school called Kentwood Elementary is surrounded by 6 foot tall fences. On weekend and after school the school yard and playgrounds (like the majority of LAUSD schools) are closed and empty.

Slowly - way too slowly - but surely, Los Angeles city and school leaders are inching toward a common-sense plan that would benefit communities immeasurably: After hours, when schools aren't being used for instruction, they would be open for countless other uses.

Imagine: Playgrounds could be parks. Classrooms could be community meeting rooms. Arts and athletic facilities could enrich cultural and fitness opportunities for everyone.

This is, by the way, not just fantasy, but what the Los Angeles Unified School District promised voters when we approved billions of dollars in school bonds over recent years. The new campuses, we were told, would be hubs for community life.

Fortunately that is changing ... slowly.

On Wednesday the Los Angeles City Council approved a plan to expand agreements with the LAUSD to keep schools open for the public on nights and weekends. Under the proposal, a master joint-use agreement will be developed, and the school board is set to take up a similar proposal soon.

This is a good idea that should catch on. With the childhood obesity crisis research indicates that living close to a local park is important in children's physical activity levels.

Last week I took my granddaughter to our local park. It was 2 miles away. The closest elementary is about 3 blocks. The local elementary has green grass, a sandbox and a play structure and is MUCH more convenient. Tax payers pay for these facilities. Let's open them for public use.