How a “Gangsta Gardner” Changed How Los Angeles Polices its Sidewalks

South Central Los Angeles is known for a lot of things, most of them not positive. It has been the subject of songs, movies and the location of the famous 1992 Rodney King riots. However, South Central Los Angeles’ rich history runs the gamut of a turn of the century multi-ethnic neighborhood to a victim of social policies of forced segregation and the war on drugs. It is also the birthplace of a new hero whose guerilla gardening has changed the way Los Angeles City now polices its sidewalks.

As Ron Finley tells it, he was just doing something good for his community when he planted his first garden in 2010. South Central is one of the thousands of neighborhoods in the United States that are known as a food deserts. It’s particularly galling considering that just a few miles away in several directions, more affluent neighborhoods are overrun by grocery stores filled with organic produce and farmers markets happening several days a week. Finley was tired of having to drive 45 minutes “just to get a tomato.” While growing up in the neighborhood he also raised his sons in, he saw his neighbors dying of curable diseases. “I see wheelchairs bought and sold like used cars,” Finley shared in his Ted Talk. “I see dialysis centers popping up like Starbucks.”

In South Central Los Angeles, “The drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.”

With space at a premium, Finley decided to make use of the unused areas between the sidewalk and the curb called parkways. Maintenance of the city-owned patches of dry dirt were the responsibility of property owners, but remained uncultivated and ignored, just like his neighborhood. He decided to maintain it by planting a “food forest” on the 150 foot by 10 foot plot of land in front of his home. Soon the area was overrun with vegetables and fruit. He let his neighbors know they didn’t have to steal in the middle of the night, as he once caught a hungry mother and daughter doing. He grew it for them.

His garden also got the attention of city officials. He was cited for growing a garden without a $400 permit. He remained undeterred even after being warned it could turn into a warrant. His organization, L.A. Green Grounds started an online petition urging the City of Los Angeles to change his rules. A Los Angeles Times columnist picked up the story, which soon got the attention of his local councilman.

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to allow the planting of curbside urban gardens.

While the details of the ordinance are being worked out, the City Council has suspended enforcement of the soon to be outdated ordinance. Since planting his first “guerilla garden” in 2010, L.A. Green Grounds had planted 27 such gardens in parkways and vacant lots around the area three years later. Finley, who says he is an artist first and the soil is just another canvas, has since started a new organization, The Ron Finley Project. The plan is to create “ecolutionaries” through community gardening projects that not only provide desperately needed nutrition, but also jobs and self-sustaining neighborhoods.

He also wants his message to resonate with the younger generation of these neighborhoods that are often written off as lost causes.

“What I want to do here, we gotta make this sexy. So I want us all to become ecolutionary renegades, gangstas, gangsta gardeners. We gotta flip the script on what a gangsta is,” he says. “If you ain’t a gardener, you ain’t gangsta. Get gangsta with your shovel, okay? And let that be your weapon of choice.”

Photo Credit: Ron Finley


Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe3 years ago

Ron Finley is a smart man!! We can't eat grass, so a garden makes more sense!!

Lawrence Dsouza
Lawrence D3 years ago

Inspiring, shows us that we can claim back urban spaces to do good rather than leave them neglected.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Eric Lees
Eric Lees4 years ago

This is awesome. More people are starting to stand up and take responsibility for themselves and their neighbors and stop depending on government to take care of them. There are many local ordinances that prevent people from having a garden in their front yards or small livestock in their back yards. I'm guessing he's not a Democrat.

Lawns are expensive to take care of and are mostly wasted space. Lawn mowers are one of the biggest polluters. I'm looking at permaculture among other ways to reduce the amount of grass I have to mow.

We will all need to become more self reliant and community reliant in the future as the burden of government grows and we have to face the economic reality that the path our country is on is unsustainable.

Rod Clayton
Rod Clayton4 years ago

Well done. So glad the authorities are changing the rules.
I do hope the younger generation catch on too.

Vicky P.
Vicky P4 years ago


Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey4 years ago

Well done that man. We need more like him and world wide too.

Daphne H.
Daphne H4 years ago

A true hero