The word “place” has a myriad of definitions. It can mean a location or a home or a specific area or site. It can also define someone’s or something’s relationship with another or a particular space. In Los Angeles, an organization has been created that encompasses all of those definitions and more.
“Investing in Place” was created in early 2015 in response to the stark reality that even though Los Angeles County encompasses 88 towns and cities, and that it has a diverse population of more than 10 million, there was no coordinating voice at the county level for affordable, healthy and equitable transportation investments. The organization sees its mission as bringing people, organizations and governmental entities together countywide to make sure that active transportation investments are not overlooked, particularly when it comes to low-income communities and communities of color. In addition to holding quarterly convenings – some that have drawn more than 100 attendees – it is also producing policy recommendations and disseminating information to key stakeholders with the goal of increasing transparency and inclusiveness in the transportation decision-making process.
The organization, and its mission, has a particular sense of urgency surrounding it for two reasons. The first is that many cities in the county are far behind in making their transportation systems functional for all users. Los Angeles, for example, has not made significant updates and investments to basic infrastructure such as sidewalks and crosswalks since the 70s. That fact has led to unacceptably high rates of roadway deaths and injuries involving people who are walking to their destination, especially within communities of color.
The second is that Los Angeles County is currently in the process of updating its Long Range Transportation Plan and will consider a county transportation sales tax ballot measure in November, 2016. The ballot measure, if successful, is estimated to produce more than $120 billion (yes, that’s with a “b”) in transportation revenue over the next 40 years – significant dollars that will result in the ability of the county to improve bus lines and build train lines, strengthen sidewalk and bicycle lane networks, improve highways, and repair and maintain infrastructure for decades to come.
Jessica Meaney, the managing director of Investing in Place sees the ballot measure as an historic opportunity to positively affect systems change to the benefit of people who walk, bike and use transit. She says, “It’s an opportunity to correct historical wrongs, especially among low income populations and communities of colors … if done right, it has the potential to pay dividends for years to come.”
Meaney, a former transportation planner who once worked for the the Southern California Association of Governments and Safe Routes to School National Partnership, notes that Investing in Place is critically important at this time and place because of the expanding and enlightened understanding of the need to design transportation systems to not only safely move cars but also people on foot and on bike. It’s now become a matter of connecting that understanding to the resources necessary to protect, preserve and grow investments in walking, biking, safe routes to school and complete streets across the Los Angeles County region. Or, as Meaney says, “aligning the funding with the vision.”
Investing in Place is impressive not only for the mission it has taken on, but also for the breadth of partners it has brought into the movement. Those partners include well-known organizations such as the senior group AARP, and Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership; walking, biking and public transit advocacy organizations such as the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Los Angeles Walks and the Alliance for Community Transit; community organizations including T.R.U.S.T. South L.A. and the Leadership for Urban Renewal Network, and others.
Voices for Healthy Kids is providing financial and technical assistance to help accelerate Investing in Place and the movement it has initiated. Meaney has referred to our support as a “game changer.” While we appreciate the recognition, we think that the true game changer here is Meaney and her organization. If they are successful, Los Angeles County will become a place where all of its residents – whether they drive, bike, walk or use mass transit – can safely connect to the region and each other. If that happens, the positive impact will felt for generations.