East L.A. urban planning students show pride in their neighborhood

Students discuss local landmarks and explain why they’re important to the community as part of a first-time partnership with USC Price

June 16, 2016 Matthew Kredell

Students from the East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy (ELARA) at Esteban Torres High School commanded a classroom at the USC Price School of Public Policy, staffing stations where they were ready to show and tell what makes their community special.

“Greetings From East L.A.,” a first-time partnership between USC Price, ELARA and the social enterprise nonprofit Public Matters, is an asset-mapping project of East Los Angeles that urged the students to think about the valued landmarks in their neighborhood and what can be done to improve the area. The ELARA students exhibited their work to USC students and faculty in May.

ELARA is one of only three urban planning high schools in the country. USC Price students helped guide the individual projects, providing some of the technical aspects of planning that they learned in their USC courses.

This partnership is indicative of the commitment USC Price has to improving our communities.

David Sloane

“This partnership is indicative of the commitment USC Price has to improving our communities,” said USC Price Professor David Sloane. “We hope that this project will serve as a platform for future activities, resulting in a strengthened relationship with ELARA, new educational opportunities for its students and new ways that our students can learn about and from community members.”

Efforts on display

In the back of the exhibition at Lewis Hall, two groups of students had created a long map of 1st Street in East Los Angeles with names of places and stores important to them. They pointed to where they would suggest adding lights, green spaces and cover from the elements to make the area more walkable.

Around the room, other students set up individually and were prepared to discuss individual landmarks that make the area unique. The students used iPads to incorporate photographs that they took into their presentations.

Jesus Palalia, 17, focused on the East L.A. Library, which he explained is not only a quiet place to study but also contains a Chicano Resource Center and showcases unique murals, including one he is fond of, that captures people who have made an impact on the history of the neighborhood.

“This project made me realize that East L.A. is really important,” Palalia said. “There are a lot of stereotypes out there that East L.A. is a bad place, but it’s really not. The people from USC helped me realize that I should help my community and find ways to make it better and defeat these stereotypes.”

Passion for planning

USC Price students Katie Jagodka ’16, Evan Kort ’16 and Justin Pascone MPL ’16 took semester internships with Public Matters to help the ELARA students with their projects. The USC students were excited to see high school students with a passion for urban planning.

“I was so impressed because I’m in city planning now, but in high school I never really knew anything about what goes on behind city planning,” Jagodka said. “The way they’re already so familiar with what transit-oriented development should be or what’s a walkable community — in my mind that’s so amazing.”

Through a partnership with Los Angeles Times High School Insider, the ELARA students are providing more in-depth information on the landmarks and publishing essays about their relationship to East L.A.

In addition, the ELARA students also had the opportunity to tour the USC campus.

“This really is about trying to expand our reach into the community, expand our recruitment and reach some underrepresented groups,” said USC Price Professor LaVonna Lewis. “What I like about it is the near-peer model with high school students getting to interact with undergraduates and undergrads getting to interact with graduate students and all of the students interacting with professionals in their field.”