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Debs Park
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Worldchanging Los Angeles local, Foster Kerrison

Debs Park, formerly a home for gangs and vice, has become a true urban nature center since it was revitalized by the Audubon Society in 2003. The park provides 300 acres of much needed nature for the mostly low-income and minority residents of Highland Park and Boyle Heights, many of whom have never had an opportunity to leave the urban core of Los Angeles.

This is Audubon’s first foray into an urban setting, and has allowed the organization to shift their focus from preserving established bird sites, to providing interactions with nature for populations that have historically not been prioritized in the "traditional" environmental movement. As the center's website states:

"Aside from the occasional field trip in grade school, these kids are being left out environmental education opportunities children elsewhere take for granted. In fact, the grandparents and great-grandparents in the community, often from rural backgrounds, possess a far broader knowledge of the natural world than do the younger generations. With family-oriented educational programming, the Audubon Center at Debs Park will address these disparities and will serve as a model for urban nature centers across the country."

The park contains one of the better local examples of California black walnut woodland, as well as other native ecosystems. Over 136 bird species have been recorded at the site. But the park’s noteworthiness is not limited to it’s ecological and community resources. It is also home to the first building to ever receive a platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The building materials are predominantly recycled, including particle board made from sunflower seeds and rebar made from melted down guns and oil filters. 100% of wastewater is treated on site; there is no connection to the public sewer system. The building’s colors were chosen to help blend into the hillside, and the layout was designed to conserve energy by allowing the use of natural lighting, and limiting the need for heating and cooling systems. The building is completely off-the-grid, using 200 photovoltaic panels to power heating, cooling and lighting. The landscaping consists of native southern Californian plants, which require no irrigation once established.

As our population continues to become more urban, hopefully parks such as this will allow the next generation to experience the beauty of our natural world, while also exposing them to the technologies and strategies that may help us to protect it. That is one way to ensure a new generation of WorldChangers.

For more info., check out the center's website.

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