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A Garden Grows on a Rooftop of a "Wellness" Center in South Park... Not

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Shaded from the sun and 90 degree heat, about 300 gathered this afternoon under a sea of rain umbrellas for the "ground breaking" of California Medical Center's Hope Street Family Center. Billed as much-needed recreation space and home for wellness programs in the "underserved" neighborhood of South Park, the proposed project already has community engagement--at least judging by the excitement at the launch.

The volume-knob-friendly DJ, the juice boxes, the face painting and even the "gold" painted dedication shovels all said 'we want this project.' Programs will include early childhood education, family literacy, nutrition education and social services that you would expect from an inner-city hospital doing a good job of serving its LA community.

The Center itself will cost $15 million, be LEED Silver certified and include standard green trimmings: Native landscape plantings, storm water retention, recycled flooring materials -- all that great "sustainable" menu items you'd expect in 2011.

What is absent? What is not present in green-space poor (according to guest speaker State Senator Kevin De Leon) and obesity-rich Downtown LA (the site is two blocks north of the 10 freeway at Hope)? Answer: A garden for the kids and the families. Judging by the crowd of kids, their moms, and the cans of Hawaiian Punch offered for free, there is is a disconnect between wellness and food both on the part of the hospital staff and the community it serves.

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According to Richard Hume, Director of Grants and Contracts for California Hospital, a roof-top garden (very green) would cost an additional $1.5 million in structural additions to the roof. $1.5? If looked at by itself, that seems excessive, and merits a second bid.

What isn't being looked at is the cost of not building a garden for the kids and parents in South Park. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, obesity-related illness costs the US nearly $300 billion per year. For cash-strapped city health-care providers that translates into $50 million per 100,000 people according to the Michelle Obama's Let's Move Co-chair and Newark, New Jersey Mayor, Cory Booker. Beyond the direct dollar costs, it would be a shame in two-years if the "wellness center" opens in South Park without the garden, without the kids having their own healthy patch of green.

Judging by the kids who grabbed the gold-painted dedication shovels after the official photos, they are ready to grow some broccoli now. Maybe the adults will figure this out too; the foundation has yet to raise all the funds for this project.