Urban Geography: Willow Springs Park

This post in my Urban series is different. I didn’t go on the field trip for this place (I needed time off to do other things). But I did visit and interview the person in charge of the park and its restoration process for my journalism class. I produced a multimedia package with each part focusing on a different aspect of the park. Here is my podcast, print story and slideshow (at the end of the print story).

This Isn’t A Park:

Long Beach Youth Help Create Urban Nature     March 17, 2014

Photo by Laylita Day. Location: DeForest Park.  Pictured: Greg Jones, Jason Gallup, Denzel Harris and Lancelot Leatiota.

Photo by Laylita Day.
Location: DeForest Park. Pictured: Greg Jones, Jason Gallup, Denzel Harris and Lancelot Leatiota.

A dream to create his own garden, to become more sustainable and to provide an alternate food source has led Denzel Harris, 22, to delivering mulch around Long Beach. And he does not mind one bit.  Harris is one of the many youth workers who work for the City of Long Beach’s Office of Sustainability. In collaboration with the Youth Opportunity Center, youth ages 14-24 are given the chance to work and acquire skills in their areas of interest.

“I was more interested in nature and trying to sustain myself,” Harris said. “This is perfect. This has helped me a lot and once the opportunity came available … I just jumped on it because that’s what I really wanted to do.”

The YOC is part of the Career Transition Center and the Workforce Development Bureau, which help out-of-work adults find jobs, according to Larry Rich, sustainability coordinator for the Office of Sustainability.  The YOC runs many different temporary programs mainly through state and federal workforce grants but has one consistent program called the Summer Youth Employment Program.

“It has various degrees of funding each year because it depends on the budget of the county,” Rich said. “… in the last few years it hasn’t had that much funding but … I’m hearing that this year it’s going to have more participants.”  This means more opportunities for people like Harris to do what they love and help contribute to their community.  Harris has been interning for about a year on a 1,000-hour program. He has worked on demonstration gardens, installing grey water systems and Operation Mulch-A-Lot.

Operation Mulch-A-Lot uses city-owned vacant lots around Long Beach to create mulch. Rich said the program began as a way to reduce waste produced by city street tree trimmings.  The City of Long Beach produces about 12,000 tons of green waste a year, of which 6,000 go to vacant lots and 600 to Long Beach residents, according to the Office of Sustainability’s website.  With more than 20 mulch lots in western Long Beach, the city saves tens of thousands of dollars on maintenance costs due to weed removal, Rich said. The mulch also keeps the lots from looking run-down and abandoned.

“When you put … 12 or 18 inches of mulch on a vacant lot the weeds don’t grow or at least they don’t grow as much …,” Rich said. “But the places where the mulch is thick, it stops the weed growth.”  He also said that the mulch helps hold onto storm water much like a sponge would. This in turn lessens the amount of runoff that reaches the streets.  Operation Mulch-A-Lot benefits not just the city but also Long Beach residents through its free mulch delivery and pick-up programs.  “After [we] put mulch on all these lots, people started to ask ‘Well, can I have some of that mulch?’” Rich said. “And we started a program to deliver mulch to residents.”

The deliveries consist of filling up a truck with about 2.5 cubic yards of mulch. Rich said that this is a perfect amount for many people who use it for their landscape.  Deliveries occur every Tuesday and Thursday with 14 per week. The mulch program has made almost 2,000 deliveries since its start and is so popular that there is currently an eight-week waiting list for deliveries, according to Rich.  Those who do not want to wait and have the proper vehicle and equipment can pick up mulch instead at Farm Lot 59 at 2714 California Ave. Tuesday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

There are also special Friday deliveries, such as the one Harris and fellow youth worker Lancelot Leatiota participated in on March 7. These requests come from places, such as parks and schools. That Friday’s request came from DeForest Park for a garden.  Leatiota, 20, said he enjoys working for the Office of Sustainability and on Operation Mulch-A-Lot. He said that in addition to being in school this job helps him “… [learn] things that you never experienced before. Plus it’s a good workout too.”  He also said that he finds it very rewarding. It “[gives] me an opportunity to know what it’s like to work and it helps you think: these are things you could do to make your house look nice. Instead of having someone else do it for you, you can at least learn how they do this stuff.”

The youth workers work alongside field supervisors Greg Jones and Jason Gallup. Jones, the current team leader for the delivery program, said that the youth workers come from diverse backgrounds. This program is a way for them to develop a work ethic, discipline and learn what is and is not appropriate in a work setting.It also helps “… give them a push in the right direction when it comes to entering the job market,” Jones said. “They just never had a job before, so they don’t know how to get one or how to even apply. They haven’t been afforded the opportunity, so I guess this one kind of gives it to them,” Jones said.

Previously the team leader for Operation Mulch-A-Lot’s delivery system, Gallup is now the Green Team Leader, working on various programs.  He said the mulch program is a good opportunity for kids coming out of the workforce training because it is difficult for them to become part of the workforce and adhere to changing work schedules.

“Every Tuesday and Thursday was mulch,” Gallup said. “They knew we had to be here; we’re on a strict schedule. It was fun to see them go from not having any idea what mulch was or why we would be delivering it to being regimented and serious and understanding and enthusiastic about the program.”  Gallup also said that, “It gave them … a simple concept to base a foundation of knowledge upon. You start learning about mulch, and then you start learning about water conservation and about native landscaping ….”

For now, Harris is happy to be able to get the skills he needs for his future home garden. “Maybe a couple more years and I’ll be there. I didn’t even know about a lot of this stuff until I joined the Office of Sustainability. This is basically what I was asking for from the universe.”

Restoring the Past:

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One thought on “Urban Geography: Willow Springs Park

  1. Pingback: Long Beach Landscape History | GeoMaster

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