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There's A Social Justice Reckoning In The Works For Long Beach Parks

Four men dive into a blue pool from the side, with palm trees in the background and covered awning on the side.
Members of the Wilson High School water polo team dive into Belmont Pool in Long Beach.
(Sharon McNary/LAist)
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Decades of structural racism left the North, Central and West parts of Long Beach with less park space and investment in recreation.

That’s the blunt assessment of the city’s recently-adopted parks strategic plan, one that lays out a path to reduce the inequities in parks and programs.

It spells out the city’s fraught racial disparities, going back a century to when the Ku Klux Klan held rallies in Long Beach parks, and government policies reinforced redlining policies keeping Black, Latino and Asian people from buying or renting in some areas.

Maps showing how redlining, communities of color, and low amounts of park space overlap
Three maps in the city's strategic plan for parks show how redlining, communities of color and lower amounts of park space overlap in Long Beach.
(City of Long Beach)
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“Several generations would clearly express their awareness that maybe their neighborhoods or their portion of the city was park poor,” said Brent Dennis, director of Long Beach Parks, Recreation and Marine Department.

As a result, social equity will help guide spending decisions, he said.

For example, Long Beach has only three city-run public pools, and he's looking for a site to add one in North Long Beach.

But the city can't simply buy its way out of the problem because there isn't much empty land. The new strategic plan advocates for redevelopment projects to include space for parks.

It also calls for making existing parks more accessible by improving walking, biking and transit routes. Dennis wants all Long Beach residents to be a 10-minute walk from a park, up from the current 82%.

Parks could also provide more jobs and business opportunities — like allowing fitness entrepreneurs and others to hold classes in parks.

“The strategic plan is really coming out and calling very clearly that the city needs to look for opportunities on some of the park poor sides of the city,” Dennis said.

Dozens of groups were consulted for the plan, and have contributed several ideas — like having more dog parks, community gardens and skate parks. One suggestion urges doctors to write prescriptions for parks and recreation as preventative care.

Drawings of people on posters soliciting input on Long Beach parks plan
Long Beach Parks engagement posters
(City of Long Beach)