More than just beauty, the landscape of a neighborhood impacts the wellbeing of a community. And in South Los Angeles, an area lacking shade, and the air- and soil-cleaning properties of plants, a new park is about more than just a place for children to play, it is also about ecological justice. This is what led UCLA Extension graduate Alyssa Leal-Moffitt to her capstone project, adapting a brownfield into an eco-industrial park and community space that could impact the social and economic well-being of two South LA neighborhoods.

Leal-Moffitt’s project, “A Vision for Reparations: Reimagining the Eco Industrial Park for South LA,” was recently honored by the American Society of Landscape Architects’ (ASLA) annual student awards in the Urban Design category.

“It’s a really beautiful and a deeply researched project,” said UCLA Extension Program Director and Instructor Stephanie Landregan. “When I found out she was awarded I was thrilled that ASLA would honor somebody who did such a huge service to the community, and I was thrilled for her because she put her heart and soul into this. . . We are over the moon for her.”

For her project, Leal-Moffitt identified a Caltrans maintenance site in the neighborhood of Meadow Greens on the border of Watts. She attended community meetings, spoke with community leaders and designed something that would not only provide much needed green space but would also create a local economic hub qualifying for several funding programs. Using phytoremediation, in which plants help to clean contaminated environments, the park could not only heal the community but also the land.

The project lays out the landscape design, envisioning plants, structures and pathways. It also highlights the history of the neighboring communities and how government neglect, racism and poverty impacted the project site as well as the health and wellbeing of those nearby.

“When I moved to LA I was shocked by blatant environmental injustice, where you have these beautiful landscapes on the Westside, but when you go to South LA it is barren. And it’s hot,” Leal-Moffitt said. “It’s so clearly neglected.”


Alyssa Leal-Moffitt leaning against a stone wall

Alyssa Leal-Moffitt

Leal-Moffitt had always wanted to be a landscape architect but didn’t think she had the necessary math skills for the career. After getting her bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Columbia University in New York and spending several years working in the fashion industry, she moved to Los Angeles where she focused on raising her children. Then in 2017, she took her first class at UCLA Extension.

“UCLA Extension made it so easy,” she said. “I got a catalog and thought, ‘oh, I can just take a class and see if I like it.’ I was able to pursue my dream quarter by quarter and gain the design and technological knowledge necessary for the profession.”

Now, at Santa Barbara landscape architecture firm Arcadia Studios, she works on projects for commercial projects like wineries, as well as public projects and homes. She said her experience at UCLA Extension prepared her for the workplace, learning how to navigate criticism and work together towards design solutions that are sustainable, artistic and meets the clients’ needs.

But her passion remains in social justice, making an impact on communities through the landscape.

“This is a profession that has the opportunity to make big changes in people’s lives,” Landregan said. “Not just hers, but the lives she will touch.”

You can view Leal-Moffitt’s project on the ASLA Student Awards website.