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Tuesday
Feb192013

Resilience Isn't Just About Engineering; Social Connections Matter, Too

Gensler's design for the Willowbrook MLK Wellness Community has been nominated for an A+ Architizer Award. Photo credit: Gensler

Converting neglected urban environments into healthy, resilient neighborhoods hinges on several factors. One such factor that has historically been overlooked but that has received significantly more attention in recent weeks is the importance of robust social connections within urban neighborhoods. Recent articles published in The Atlantic Cities and on National Public Radio highlight the critical role that strong community ties play in creating resilient cities that not only can withstand rare and fantastic threats, such as natural disasters, but that also encourages residents to live healthier, more active and connected lifestyles on a daily basis.

The idea that everyday relationships play an indispensable role in reinventing urban neighborhoods lies at the heart of our design for a community of health and wellness. On January 23, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved our master plan, which lays out a comprehensive vision for the Willowbrook MLK Wellness Community of South Los Angeles.

Fundamental to the Willowbrook MLK Wellness Community is a series of interconnected systems, including the Movement and Mobility system. The primary organizing element, the Wellness Spine, the physical manifestation of health and wellness, is a dedicated pedestrian and bicycle path, providing a strong visual identity and increased connectivity and community access. It encourages physical activity, reduces environmental impacts and contributes to a lively and safe community. Supported by a variety of elements that range from increased open space in the form of parks, better access to fresh food from community gardens and local farmers market, and well-marked walking and biking paths toward the area’s public transit hubs, the Movement and Mobility system encourages members of the community to interact in the public sphere.

Our master plan also allocates a significant amount of land to open space, including new community gardens where residents can spend time outside interacting with each other while growing the type of fresh, healthy food that has been historically lacking. Anyone who lives in a city where public spaces give residents to the opportunity to engage in active pursuits with their neighbors can attest to the critical ways such activities form strong bonds.

This is how vital community connections are formed. South L.A., part of Los Angeles County, is a prime example of an area that has long been neglected and underserved. Helping this region reach its full potential by reversing longstanding health and economic deficiencies starts with creating a stronger sense of ownership and investment in one’s community. Los Angeles is not known as a haven of strong public spaces, but we believe that smart development initiatives can change this and, in the process, make L.A. a healthier and better-connected community.

Brian Glodney is enchanted by all things urban, and his passion rests in creating healthy, sustainable, and vibrant places and cities. Brian's work has allowed him to study, experience, and work within the thriving metropolis, the downtrodden exurbs, and everything in between. As a Recognized Practitioner of Urban Design, it is his enthusiasm for urban design that permeates his work at every scale, from creating healthy community visions, to urban infill projects, to sports-anchored mixed-use. You can contact Brian at brian_glodney@gensler.com.
Claudia Carol is the planning and urban design practice area leader of Gensler’s southwest region, with over 25 years of architectural and planning experience ranging from schools and universities to healthcare campuses to mixed-use developments and hospitality projects. Her delight in the urban environment encompasses both the built and experiential aspects of our cities. Contact Claudia at claudia_carol@gensler.com.

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