On September 29, 2016, nearly 100 people came together at a summit co-sponsored by the Healthy, Equitable, Active Land Use (HEALU) Network and the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles’ Making Connections Initiative to explore this very question: Can land use decisions help prevent community violence?
Our response? A resounding yes. We see a tremendous opportunity to make our communities safer by bringing a violence prevention ‘lens’ to guide land use decisions like what gets funded, where things get built, whose voices shape the process, and what policies and programs are in place to ensure that communities of greatest need stand to benefit the most from investments.
Walking into the summit, we knew that we needed to look for opportunities at the nexus between the complex fields of land use and violence prevention. That’s why we wanted to bring together so many advocates, local elected officials, foundations, community residents, non-profit staff and leaders, as well as public health, gang reduction, and urban planning professionals in one space for an afternoon—to help illuminate the landscape, challenges, and opportunities we face.
The first to speak was The Honorable Marqueece Harris-Dawson, City of Los Angeles Councilmember, 8th District, who challenged us to continuously push back against a land use system that perpetuates inequities. We all have a role to play in advancing the movement for community safety, health, and equity.
With this charge in mind, Prevention Institute’s (PI) Jamecca Marshall and Rachel Bennett, provided an overview of PI’s paper Community Safety by Design and facilitated a small-group activity on identifying collaborative land use strategies to prevent violence.
To round out the discussion, we had a dynamic panel comprised of Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza of the Social Justice Learning Institute, Dr. Randal Henry of Community Intelligence and Making Connections – South LA, and Yvette Lopez-Ledesma of Pacoima Beautiful. The panel provided a framework for thinking about community-level trauma, shared personal stories about how violence impacts their communities, and explored ideas about how to prevent violence through land use decisions and investments, and how to scale successful projects into broader policy change.
Five key takeaways from the Summit include:
- Take advantage of existing opportunities in the land use system to promote community safety. Those of us who work in land use can prevent violence through the work we already do. Multiple sectors can prevent violence by addressing the risk factors for violence and bolstering the resources communities need to be resilient and free from violence. This represents a major—largely unrealized—opportunity to achieve safer, healthier communities.
- Change the conversation on crime and violence to emphasize community safety and the need to reduce trauma and health inequities. Crime and violence aren’t synonymous (though there are overlaps), and trauma and violence often persist in communities even when crime rates decline. Broadening the typical crime prevention framework—where law enforcement is the primary driver and criminalization can supersede community building—to include a comprehensive violence prevention framework, will better address trauma and the root causes of violence, support resilience, and engage a more inclusive set of sectors and community voices.
- Put communities at the center of land use and violence prevention conversations and lift up the voices of the people most impacted by violence. This means engaging victims and perpetrators of violence, as well as concerned stakeholders, and recognizing that people who are affiliated with gangs are part of the community whose input should be gathered and whose needs must be addressed. “Gang is not synonymous with violence. When you don’t have gang members at the table, the decisions you make are going to miss the mark. You can’t pick and choose the members at your table,” said PI’s Jamecca Marshall. Our communities need support in healing the trauma that comes from experiencing pervasive violence—and land use decisions can and should help cultivate those spaces and opportunities for healing.
- Support arts and cultural expression to prevent violence and make communities safer and more appealing places to live. Get to know who is already working on violence prevention and safety in your community, and look for opportunities to showcase the community’s cultural, artistic, and linguistic traditions through the design of transit stops, wayfinding signage, parks, playgrounds, and other public spaces. Partnering with schools and youth programs creates opportunities to engage youth in land use decisions that cultivate their creativity and leadership.
- Seize existing opportunities to embed community safety strategies into land use decision-making and vice versa, through partnerships and cross-sector collaboration. Now is the time to invest in the intersection of land use, violence prevention, and health equity. Policymakers and advocates can reform policies and practices that promote criminalization through land use, especially ones that are financially punitive. Funders and public agencies can support research and collaborative work at this intersection. Researchers and practitioners across sectors—violence prevention, transportation, planning, parks, housing, public health, education, healthcare, and more—can build a robust evidence base and toolkit of land use strategies that prevent violence and promote health equity.
We want to give a special thanks to our speakers—Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza, Dr. Randal Henry, and Yvette Lopez-Ledesma—and to everyone who came and shared their ideas.
Stay tuned for a comprehensive recap report and video highlights from the summit, and check out more photos and tweets from the event. To learn more about the intersection of land use, violence prevention, and health equity, check out PI’s step-by-step guide on building Multi-Sector Partnerships for Preventing Violence, our papers Community Safety by Design and Adverse Community Experiences and Resilience: A Framework for Addressing and Preventing Community Trauma, and a brief that shares key learnings from last year’s HEALU Network summit on healthy development without displacement.
About the Healthy, Equitable, Active, Land Use (HEALU) Network: Prevention Institute convenes the HEALU Network, whose members represent multiple sectors and complementary approaches (active transportation, parks, affordable housing, safe routes to school, environmental law, public health, and more), from grassroots organizing to community development to strategic policy advocacy. Together, we are committed to building a healthier, more equitable land use system in Los Angeles and beyond.
For more information, check out the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles’ Making Connections for Mental Health and Wellbeing initiative and the HEALU Network webpage, and join the conversation online at #HEALU4ALL.