Recognizing the unique air quality issues associated with Boyle Heights, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) came to Salesian High School to help shape the future of the historic, east side community.
The Air Quality Institute Program event last Wednesday was designed to raise awareness on the issues and compromises associated with urban planning and the environment.
The event was a partnership between the SCAQMD and Los Angeles-based urban planner, James Rojas, a former Salesian High student.
Students were encouraged to use their imaginations in creating models of their favorite places from typical, household items and then to discuss their creations with program officials.
Twenty-one interactive workshops were set up at the campus-wide event with more than 400 students participating in the proceedings.
One of the featured workshops at the event involved getting students to plan an entire city from the ground up. This was done in order to help students share their visions of the future of the community, according to Rojas.
“I’ve been working for years trying to get students involved in urban planning,” said Rojas. “These workshops were really exciting for them. They worked in teams, shared ideas and got an understanding on how the environment impacts their lives.”
Students learned sharing, public speaking, environmental awareness, teamwork and received an introduction to design fields in urban planning, architecture and engineering.
The SCAQMD chose to come to Boyle Heights because of its unique location, being situated at the junction of several Southern California freeways, which brings air-quality issues to the forefront of the community’s concerns.
According to SCAQMD, air pollution in Boyle Heights has been a major concern for the district for years.
“When you look at Boyle Heights, it has been there for so long and freeways have impacted the community for years,” said Lisha Smith, SCAQMD, deputy executive officer, legislative and public affairs.
Event sponsors hoped that the event would help students realize the issues that face urban planners and the district on a daily basis.
By doing so, students gained firsthand knowledge about the problems and compromises that must be dealt with.
“We wanted to broaden their awareness on how creating and developing communities was done,” said Smith.
Similar SCAQMD events are planned in the near future, including a March 13 event at the Long Beach Convention Center where more than 8,000 Southern California students and teachers will participate.
District officials say they plan to return to Boyle Heights with projects to help create clean communities and further reduce toxic emissions.