Last Wednesday’s design workshop looked at potential uses for the two Metro-owned lots at Mariachi Plaza. Map detail: Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio, Perkins + Will, DakeLuna
“If it wasn’t for Garage [Board Shop and Sk8 for Education program],” 9-year-old skater “Bite Size” told me, “I’d probably be hanging out with the wrong type.”
I looked at him. He really was adorably bite-sized as he stood next to a skateboard nearly as as tall as he was. It was hard to believe he was old enough to be worried about kicking it with the “wrong type,” but as both he and 10-year-old skater Jose Solano attested, there were a lot of older guys in their neighborhoods that had no problem with steering vulnerable kids in the wrong direction.
Because of that, both Bite Size and Jose were on a mission. They had prepared short speeches to give at last Wednesday’s workshop about the importance of creating an engaging space at Mariachi Plaza that would help inspire youth to stay in school and be their best selves.
When there wasn’t time for them to deliver it to the crowd of 60 or so participants that had come to work on the development guidelines for the Metro-owned lots at the plaza, they settled for delivering the speeches to me.
While he had been skating for four years, Bite Size said, it was the program at the Garage that had given him a place to go that was safe and free of negative influences. And, he said, it had helped him get his grades up by requiring he did his homework.
A wink and a laugh from Garage founder Jerry Carrera indicated that perhaps Bite Size’s grades were not quite as high as he was suggesting.
There was room for improvement, Bite Size acknowledged. But he was doing much better than he had been.
“I go there every day,” he grinned. “I love Pizza Fridays!”
Solano echoed Bite Size’s enthusiasm and reassured me that, since he started the Garage’s program, he had raised his grades from Ds and Fs to “straight-up As” and was motivated to keep doing well.
Carrera and several of his skaters were not at the workshop, as one might have assumed, to ask that part of Mariachi Plaza be turned into a skate park.
What they were looking for was to preserve some open space at the site, be it for skating or some other form of fitness or play, and that Metro look at creative partnerships (possibly with non-profits) to make sure that any development serve as much as an investment in the people of the community as an investment in the site.
Gesturing toward the youth while reporting his table’s ideas for the site back to the larger group, he asked, “Where are these kids gonna play?”
“We want green space for kids today,” he concluded. “They are the future of tomorrow.”
It was a point well taken.
A woman reports her table’s ideas back to larger group. Although many present were housing proponents, they were adamant that any development speak to the culture and multi-generational nature of the community. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Nearly 40 percent of the area’s population is under the age of 18 and they don’t have that many places to hang out. Boyle Heights is quite park poor and when the youth try to access a space like Mariachi Plaza because it is relatively safe, in a central location, accessible, and lit at night, they are often chased out by law enforcement.
With more youth congregating along 1st Street since Carrera opened a second skate shop there last fall (his original shop is in East L.A.), and more folks using the plaza as ground zero for reclaiming their streets (like the 700 women who participated in the Amigas Who Run event this past weekend), it is even more imperative that the next iteration of the plaza be more welcoming to all ages and all uses.
Because Boyle Heights is a multi-generational community, the question of carving out space for users of all ages had been on the minds of many participants, even those who were there to speak up on behalf of seniors and other vulnerable members of the population.
At the table where I sat, residents discussed the importance of ancillary uses, including a walking path, lots of shade trees, a play area, seating areas, street vending, music (particularly mariachi), and murals — both cultural and street art-style — that reflected the culture and composition of the community. A range of amenities, they felt, would keep the plaza active, beautiful, and welcoming to all ages.
The interest in preserving and activating open space was so great, in fact, that many participants came down in favor of closing off some or all of Bailey Street (below).
Participants discussed the potential for closing off part or all of Bailey Street to make a pedestrian plaza, potential space for street vendors and open-air markets, fitness area, or any number of other uses.
The portion in lighter orange between the two lots (above) is the minimum area that participants and the design team considered converting to open space.
Being able to use that section (or more) of the street would allow for more uses to be packed into the project. Residents wouldn’t have to choose between the structures they appeared to be most in favor of — affordable housing for seniors or very low-income residents, a grocery market, or a laundromat — and the open green space they were desperate for. And it might even allow for some of the more practical amenities many have called for, like public restrooms.
One gentleman even suggested a single structure bridging both lots in such a way as to allow for more housing to be packed in while leaving Bailey Street open (and creating a tunnel that offered shade).
As always, the question of affordable housing touched off heated conversation among participants. Read more…