This past Saturday marked the beginning of the public process for a proposed Michigan Avenue Neighborhood Greenway in Santa Monica (a video of the concept for the unfamiliar). This is one of the more high profile projects called for in the early scope of Santa Monica’s Bike Action Plan, although the greenway concept goes far beyond bicycling, and requires it’s own public process to proceed. The good news is by the end of the workshop I think a lot of people came away with good ideas and valuable conversations.
However things got off to a bit of rocky start, and anyone who left before the hosted bike & walk audits may have left with a very different impression of community sentiment of those present.
Melani Smith of the Los Angeles based urban planning & design firm Meléndrez kicked off a loose presentation on what greenways tend to feature, with a few photos examples. In the immediate Q&A before the workshop portion, a few heated questions and concerns were asked involving traffic generally, and the fear of neighborhood gentrification, an issue that goes much deeper than just the design of streetscapes. Dealing with these concerns is a tightrope city planners have to walk. Under investment in the Pico Neighborhood frequently draws criticism (something I have criticized myself before), but apparently so to can proposing new investments.
Understanding debates about change in the Pico Neighborhood, which happens to be the area of Santa Monica I’ve lived for the past seven years, requires a little of the history that goes further back. The neighborhood, which has long been the most diverse in the city, and with what had been one of the largest black populations in the Westside of the LA region, was quite literally ripped in half back during the Santa Monica freeway development. Many homes were bought out though eminent domain and destroyed, with the loudest and most influential constituencies the consequences of getting a freeway to the beach fell hardest on other neighborhoods with less of a voice.
The Pico Neighborhood remains with a literal and figurative divide, along with the brunt of the air toxins associated with high traffic volume freeways. With property anywhere in Santa Monica increasingly in demand, and rents going up, some members of the community are now concerned that what’s left of ethnic and economic resident diversity in Santa Monica is increasingly at risk. Why gentrification occurs and where, and how best to ensure people are not displaced from the community as things change (and many changes pressing in on Santa Monica are beyond the scope of the city’s own choices as well), are topics I don’t feel I have done enough research on to write on as confidently as I do transportation. However I do know enough to know it’s a complex, multifaceted, and loaded issue.
Anyone advocating for new ideas or proposals within the Pico Neighborhood, regardless of what they may be, or however well intentioned, would do well to make themselves aware of it’s history and context, and spend some time listening. Folks with deep ties in the area have an understandable and warranted skepticism when they hear talk of deliberately changing things, and have been burned in the past. Read more…