University Park Slow Jams (2019 – Present)

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

University Park Slow Jams is a creative call to action for safer streets. Slow Jams blend socially-engaged art, education, and capacity building among local stakeholders with creative public acts to build awareness of street safety and elevate community perspectives. When we use the term “community” in the University Park area, we refer to the families, children, elders, residents, local K-12 schools, and USC faculty, staff and students who live in and spend their days and nights in University Park. Public Matters’ partners in this work include Los Angeles Walks, USC Kid Watch Ambassadors, parents and staff, and USC faculty and students.

 

At its heart, University Park Slow Jams is about people and space. Families. Elders. People who walk, bike, and roll. And building power so that those who use public space – streets and sidewalks, parks and play areas – shape how their neighborhood looks, feels, and functions.

 

Traffic safety, an essential challenge for the University Park area, has become more urgent due to the pandemic. Drivers are speeding more frequently. Pedestrians and cyclists are using the streets differently; studies show they are at increased danger. Slow Jams are a path forward for community-driven change for safer streets.

 

Public Matters developed the Slow Jams model in 2017 with the initial Temple Street Slow Jams.

Our Role

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Develop the education and engagement plans, prioritizing participation from families and students.

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Work closely with partners to design and implement all Slow Jams efforts and organizing

All of the Urban Futures Lab Fellows after delivering our ABSTalk (L to R: Ashley Ajayi, Brisa Aviles, Sabrina Im).

Support Urban Futures Lab Fellows as they contribute to the design and implementation of the project

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Craft visually-compelling, relevant and responsive forms of engagement for people of all ages

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Develop partnerships and collaborations that can drive long-term, systems change

CONTEXT

University Park is a neighborhood with beloved public places, long-term residents, and personal relationships. It is an area with a history of community-driven, safety-related advocacy and local organizing. The project builds on the work of existing safety advocates and supports an expansion of their focus by building their capacity to address street safety concerns.

 

Specifically, the project taps into USC Kid Watch’s pre-existing network of schools and monthly parent meetings to explore experiences of traffic violence among families within the area, while also working with administrators, parents, and students to develop traffic safety practices and tactics to achieve safer streets.

Traffic safety is an essential challenge for the University Park area and has become more urgent due to the pandemic. Local pedestrians and cyclists are at increased danger. In 2019, roughly 11 Los Angeles pedestrians were killed a month (128 total). In May 2020 alone, 21 pedestrians were killed (Source: LA Times). Police say the primary reason is drivers are driving much faster due to reduced traffic under the stay-at-home order. People who walk, bike and roll are also using streets differently due to COVID-19, for physical distancing and outdoor recreation. Experts fear that traffic safety will remain a serious problem.

 

In the University Park Service Area significant stretches of roadway form part of the High Injury Network (HIN): Western, Vermont, Hoover, Figueroa, West Adams, Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr.

PARTNERS

Los Angeles Walks

Los Angeles Walks is a pedestrian advocacy organization that makes walking safe, accessible and fun for all Angelenos.

It is dedicated to promoting walking and pedestrian infrastructure in Los Angeles, educating Angelenos and local policymakers concerning the rights and needs of pedestrians of all abilities, and fostering the development of safe and vibrant environments for all pedestrians.

USC Sol Price School of Public Policy Faculty + Students

USC Price trains leaders who build a better, more socially just world. University Park Slow Jams is partnering with Prof. David Sloane and undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of Urban Planning and Spatial Analysis.

 

USC Kid Watch Ambassadors, Parents + Staff

Since 1996, The USC Kid Watch program has mobilized volunteers to provide a safe passage for more than 9,000 neighborhood children as they walk to and from school, local parks, museums, libraries and other neighborhood areas.

6 Kid Watch Ambassadors, who have lived in the neighborhood between 9 and 50+ years, are guiding the project design and interactions with parents from the following neighborhood schools: 32nd Street School; Vermont Elementary School; Norwood Elementary School; John Mack Elementary School; Lenicia B. Weemes Elementary School; and Foshay Learning Center.

ENGAGEMENT

In fall of 2019, Professor Sloane taught a class at USC Price, “Creating a Pedestrian Friendly City,” in which students examined safety and crash data, and learned policy and planning interventions. Through the class, Public Matters, Prof. Sloane and students took to the streets for a pilot Slow Jam at the High Injury Network intersection at Vermont and Expo. To connect the effort beyond campus, the groups tapped partners LA Walks and USC Kid Watch. The result: neighborhood residents and an initial cohort of parents in the Kid Watch network actively took to the streets for this upstart creative act.

 

Initial excitement, brought to life through dynamic crosswalk choreography, motivated the partners to: identify funding opportunities; support the growing interest of local parents; and design and distribute a documentary-style campaign that could bring attention to local issues by sharing information about traffic safety experiences in the neighborhood. This campaign, visible on Public Matters’ instagram, was shared among the partners’ digital networks, building further excitement and energy among our groups, our networks, and an emerging group of funders.

 

Parents shared their desire for deeper action, and we transitioned at the end of summer and early fall to workshops where they, along with organizational partners and a small cohort of USC student interns, could impart their history within the neighborhood and explore the issues that matter to them most. Through a series of conversations with more than 40 families who attend five public schools in the area, it became clear that traffic violence has been normalized. One community member referred to it as a collective “quiet struggle.” Through dialogue and mapping activities, a portrait of the places people love, and the places people have experienced traffic violence, came into focus.

 

Some parents got angry. Some expressed the need to organize and mobilize. Folks got fired up. They recognized, as one contributor, Lilia Garcia, did, “the power multiple voices have when it comes to making change.”

 

With the information gathered from these sessions, we are working with USC undergraduate and graduate interns to develop an aggregated University Park Slow Jam Collective Digital Map, a conduit for the community’s voice that will grow over time.

 

As we deepen our work in 2020, the focus remains on using socially-engaged art practices to support community members to take direct, immediate action, all while working towards the long-term goal of infrastructure change.

UPDATES / OUT IN THE WORLD