The recent celebrations surrounding the opening of a portion of Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles highlighted the desperate need our city has for open space in the urban core.

The $52 million park, running east-west from City Hall to the Music Center, provides important recreational and passive open space for an increasing number of downtown residents who up until now had none. It will also be the focus of numerous civic and cultural events, drawing thousands to the center of our growing and maturing city.

In undertaking the development of Grand Park, Los Angeles is following the well-trod path of other major metropolitan areas such as New York; Chicago; and Portland, Ore., which have recognized that quality of life is often a determinative factor in economic vitality, and residential and commercial real estate values.

A study undertaken by USC found that in dense urban neighborhoods, the value effect of nearby green space can be stronger than the size of the park itself. For an 11 percent increase in the amount of green space within a radius of 200 to 500 feet from a house, the value of that property increased by more than 15 percent. Similarly, a report by Ernst & Young that analyzed 36 neighborhood parks in all five boroughs of New York concluded that “commercial asking rents, residential sales prices and assessed values for properties near a well-improved park, exceed rents in surrounding submarkets.”

While applauding the vision of the public-private partnership overseeing Grand Park’s development, it’s important to understand that Los Angeles remains one of the nation’s most park-poor major cities. Our city has by far the least amount of open space per resident, with less than 15 percent of our citizens living within walking distance of a park. Even more troubling is the inequitable distribution of what open space does exist. For example, those who live in more affluent areas of the city have access to more than 31 acres of open space per 1,000 residents, while South L.A.’s residents enjoy less than two acres per 1,000.

This inequality has societal costs in both mental and physical health, among other things. Los Angeles County has the dubious distinction of being the worst county in California in terms of deaths caused by diabetes, a disease which is rampant in our inner city due to poor nutrition, obesity and lack of physical activity. It’s estimated that in the county, the direct and indirect medical costs associated with diabetes are over $5 billion annually and likely to escalate in the future.

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