“The largest urban tailgate in America” is how one project designer described it. The proposed Farmers Field project in downtown Los Angeles includes a new 72,000-seat expandable football stadium, additional parking spaces, and an overhaul of the nearby convention center.
South Park, Pico Union, South LA and other historic neighborhoods encircle the stadium site. Residents tend to be lower-income people of color with high rates of certain chronic diseases, who often have not graduated high school. In an area that has witnessed rapidly changing demographics, residents wanted to know how the development could impact displacement and housing affordability. Hearing about a proposal that aimed to create 12,000 temporary, part-time jobs, residents asked how it would truly affect employment. Given past issues with public policing, residents asked how their access to public space would be impacted by the plan. And in an area where many people say they are in bad health, residents wanted to know how the development could change community health. Enter Health Impact Assessment.
Earlier this year, we worked with partners in Los Angeles seeking to review impacts of Farmers Field. But there was a catch. The public was given 45 days to comment on a 10,000-page Draft Environmental Impact Report that weighed 100 pounds. This is a particularly acute example of a question we hear a lot: “How can we do a proper HIA under severe time and resource constraints?”
Community engagement is challenging under any conditions, and often under time and resource constraints it is the first to go. At Human Impact Partners, we don’t want it to be this way.
So, we developed a new rapid HIA model and piloted it with partners in Los Angeles who were working to improve health and equity impacts of Farmers Field. The new model meets the minimum elements of HIA practice and is based on a Consensus Conference approach (which you can add to the list of things for which you thank the Danes, right after the bike superhighway.)
Adapting this approach, we held three day-long and in-person meetings in Los Angeles. Participants included a panel of 12 residents likely to be impacted by the decision; four technical experts who brought relevant information on gentrification, displacement, housing affordability, and the policing of public space; and members of partner organizations leading the HIA, including Los Angeles Community Action Network, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, and Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.
During the meetings, the resident panel finalized the list of factors for the rapid HIA to focus on. Residents co-developed and administered a survey of fellow community members. It was the impacted residents who reviewed the survey findings, considered health and demographics statistics collected by partners, and heard evidence heard from the four experts, then reached consensus on the potential impacts of the project to health. This consensus included the likelihood, severity, and magnitude of impacts, and ways to alleviate negative impacts. And it was the panel of impacted residents who developed the final recommendations. Some residents even publicized the rapid HIA findings, testifying before City Council and talking with the news media.
At the core of this model are the impacted residents. The model says there are varying types of expertise and lived experience is one of them. We’re not alone in saying so. An American Public Health Association position paper about tackling environmental health injustices identified “contextual expertise of community members” and “lived experience of community members” as part of community-based research methods that are “an effective way to address local environmental justice and health issues.”
The hope is that this approach can move beyond merely inserting community voice, or excluding it entirely, in an HIA short on time. Instead, we are aiming for a process steeped in community.
To get there, we invite you to check out the rapid HIA materials on our website. Please share your experiences and suggestions, as we strive to ensure that when an HIA is short on time, it doesn’t forget community engagement.