How Playing in the Park After Dark Unifies South L.A.
Summer Night Lights Reclaimed Public Space From Gangs and Started a Beloved Community Tradition
This summer, 32 parks around Los Angeles—many located in South L.A.—will stay open until 11 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
This is Summer Night Lights, one of L.A.’s most popular programs. As you can see in Mike Kotowski’s video of the first Summer Night Lights of the season at Ross Snyder Park, children and families enjoyed the new playground and played soccer games on three newly resurfaced fields long after dark.
Summer Night Lights has its roots in South L.A. As Rev. Jeff Carr recounts in his piece for Zócalo’s South Los Angeles series, Summer Night Lights was launched in the summer of 2008 with a focus on gang prevention. The goal was to reclaim public spaces, especially parks, for all. Programming, including sports and the arts, was designed to appeal particularly to young people ages 10 to 15, who are the prime age for gang recruitment, according to research.
While gangs remain a problem in South L.A., they have become less visible and neighborhoods are safer. Parks in particular have been revived, as USC scholar Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo writes in this Zócalo essay. And Summer Night Lights endures as a highlight of an L.A. summer.