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In an effort to show how transportation, open space, planning and other issues are intertwined with the health, culture, livability and strength of a community, Streetsblog and The California Endowment teamed to bring Streetsblog’s coverage to a hyper-local level in Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles. Sahra Sulaiman is Communities Editor for Streetsblog Los Angeles and oversees work in South Los Angeles and Boyle Heights. Her work and that of our former Boyle Heights-specific writer Kris Fortin can be found here. Contact Sahra at sahra[at]streetsblog.org or on twitter: @sahrasulaiman.

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Proyecto Jardin Evicted from Community Garden at White Memorial; Protest Planned for Saturday

Dancers participate in a celebration of culture and healing at Proyecto Jardin. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Dancers participate in a celebration of culture and healing at Proyecto Jardin. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

This Sunday, January 31st, the eviction of the community gardening collective known as Proyecto Jardin from the garden space behind White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights will mark a significant change for the neighborhood. In a community that has felt very much at the mercy of externally-driven change in recent years, many residents are determined not to let this shift go unchallenged.

They acknowledge that the land does indeed belong to White Memorial. The 1/3-acre lot was first transformed into a garden in 1999 at the behest of Dr. Robert Krochmol, a resident at White Memorial at the time. And they understand that the hospital does technically have the right to determine how its land will be used and hire whom they wish to administer operations there.

But they also believe that the community has some claim to it because the garden has functioned as a communally-structured community space for most of the last 17 years and because it was local volunteers, advocates, artists, educators, and students that worked to turn the former eyesore into a lush, green oasis of health, culture, creativity, and healing. The special symbolism that the garden holds as a safe and nurturing haven in the community’s collective imagination is tightly linked to all those folks that worked so hard to forge bonds between people and place over all those years. It can’t be easily replicated by moving the garden to a new site.

Under the leadership of Daisy Tonantzin in the early 2000s, the garden offered residents the opportunity to tap into traditional forms of healing tied to their heritage. In 2005, Tonantzin formalized her efforts to preserve traditional methods with the launch of Caracol Marketplace — a monthly gathering of artisans featuring food, handmade jewelry, healing herbs and products, art, dance, and music. Caracol Marketplace has since moved to Tropico de Nopal Art Space and Gallery, but its presence in the early days helped reinforce the sense that the garden space represented so much more than just a nice spot to grow vegetables.

Under the more recent administration of Irene Peña, activities at the garden have continued to be guided by the four pillars of community health — good food, physical activity, traditional healing arts, and community building — and adhered to a communal approach (families have plots in communal beds, help take care of each others’ plots, and share in the larger harvest). And it has served as a site for community celebrations, spiritual rituals and reconnections, youth engagement and mentoring, and the sharing of knowledge among the generations.

Pauletta Pierce paints children's faces for Dia de los Muertos. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Pauletta Pierce paints children’s faces for Dia de los Muertos. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

But keeping the garden afloat hasn’t always been easy, Peña has acknowledged. Read more…

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Whittier Boulevard to See Up to $1 Million in Streetscape Improvements

Trash accumulates under an underpass along Whittier Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Trash and debris accumulates under the 60 Freeway along Whittier Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Complaints about the condition of Whittier Boulevard are common among youth that regularly walk from the southern end of Boyle Heights to Roosevelt High School and back. And they’re only one of several groups of schoolkids that must cross and/or move along Whittier on a daily basis — a handful of schools and recreational centers straddle the three-quarters of a mile between Lorena and Soto Streets.

The section of Whittier slated for improvements is in gray. (Google maps)

The section of Whittier slated for improvements is in gray. (Google maps)

The fast-moving and heavily trafficked boulevard serves as a cut-through connection for those commuting or transporting goods between East L.A., downtown, and beyond. So, crossing it on two feet can be hazardous. Drivers tend not to slow down for folks trying to use the crosswalk at Orme, for example, and can take corners quickly in their eagerness to get to the freeways.

The way in which the street alternates almost randomly between industrial, residential, commercial, and school zones can make things even more uncomfortable for pedestrians. Some sections of sidewalk are pleasant and active, while others are in poor condition, are poorly lit, and are strewn with debris and trash. Students who must walk the lengthy underpass where the 60 Freeway stretches diagonally over Whittier have reported being disconcerted by feeling so isolated, especially when they have been hassled by homeless folks struggling with mental health and/or substance abuse issues.

The street could use some help, in other words. And help appears to be on the way.

On January 20, the City Council approved Councilmember Jose Huizar’s motion to use up to $1 million in bond monies to launch a redesign of the corridor between Boyle Avenue and Indiana Street.

It’s an investment that is long overdue. Read more…

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Today in Exide: DTSC Begins 2nd Phase of Residential Clean-up; Releases DEIR and Draft Closure Plan for Vernon Facility

The Expanded Assessment Areas where DTSC conducted testing to determine the extent of lead contamination from the Exide facility in Vernon. As many as 10,000 homes may have been affected within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant. Source: DTSC

The Expanded Assessment Areas where DTSC conducted testing to determine the extent of lead contamination from the Exide facility in Vernon. As many as 10,000 homes may have been affected within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant. Source: DTSC

Last week, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) began a second round of clean-ups of lead-contaminated soil in the residential areas around Exide Technologies’ now-shuttered lead-acid battery recycling facility. The Vernon plant and serial violator of environmental regulations cut a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in March, 2015, to close up shop in exchange for avoiding criminal prosecution. As part of the closure process, Exide must clean up toxic waste at its former facility as well as lead-contaminated soil at residences, schools, and parks surrounding the plant.

Begun last year, the first round of residential clean-ups targeted the 219 properties found within the original Northern and Southern Assessment Areas — areas straddling Boyle Heights, East L.A., and Maywood that air modeling determined would be most likely affected by Exide’s lead emissions (outlined in light blue, above). More than 10,000 tons of contaminated soil was ultimately removed from a total of 186 properties.

Challenges in Cleaning up Residential Properties

While last week’s launch of the second round of clean-ups does mark an important milestone, it is only the beginning of the potentially massive project that lies ahead. This past August, the preliminary results of soil testing in expanded areas to the north and south of the plant suggested that Exide’s emissions may have deposited lead dust over as many as 10,000 homes within a 1.3 to 1.7-mile radius of the facility (above map).

Only 146 properties in the Expanded Assessment Areas have been tested thus far, with 50 being prioritized for immediate clean-up. And while 2,800 letters have been sent out to residences within the expanded areas, it is not clear what the timeline will be for following up on those letters and getting properties tested and/or cleaned. Nor is it clear when DTSC will have sufficient funds to perform a wider clean-up.

Per an order, Exide is on the hook for cleaning up any home where lead levels exceed 400 parts per million and homes with bare soil where levels exceed 80 parts per million (the level at which the state recommends further health screenings). But the settlement reached last November initially set aside just $9 million for residential clean-ups. As clean-ups cost about $40,000 per property, those funds only cover approximately 225 sites. And, as of the end of October, DTSC had already used up $8 million of those funds. DTSC was able to secure an additional $5 million from Exide earlier this spring and $7 million in emergency funds from the state in August. But those funds are nowhere near enough to cover testing and clean-ups in the much wider range of territory Exide is thought to have contaminated.

Funding issues aside, the actual clean-up process itself has also had some challenges. Residents have complained that parkways adjacent to contaminated yards were not cleaned and are concerned that, should the contractors have to return to clean the parkways at some point, the dust kicked up could contaminate the yards that had just been cleaned. Advocates have also argued that DTSC is not doing enough to inform residents about the option of having the interiors of their homes cleaned, that it is doing a poor job of letting people know of the extent to which they are at risk from harmful toxins, and that the process is not moving nearly fast enough, given the potential harm. And officials from Commerce — frustrated that they had been overlooked despite their location just to the east of the plant — suggested they may conduct their own testing rather than wait for DTSC.

In an effort to allay some of these fears and promote greater transparency, DTSC has drafted a community engagement plan and meets regularly with an advisory group comprised of community members and advocates and representatives of elected officials and relevant government agencies. It also released the Interim Remedial Measures Work Plan, which offers a detailed discussion of how contaminated soil from the 50 yards prioritized for clean-ups will be safely removed and trucked to distant landfills over the next six months.

Cleaning up Exide’s 15-acre Site in Vernon

Other new documents released and up for comment include Exide’s Draft Closure Plan and the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) (full DEIR, here).

The 264-page Closure Plan  — needed to ensure health and safety will be protected before the dismantling and decontamination can begin at the 15-acre site — is a very long time coming. [See the Executive Summary, here, appendices, here.] Read more…

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Metro Moves Affordable Housing Projects in Boyle Heights Forward, Returns Grocery Store Project to Drawing Board

Irvin Plata from YouthBuild Boyle Heights gives the thumbs up after a victory at the neighborhood council Wednesday night. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Irvin Plata from YouthBuild Boyle Heights gives the thumbs up after the neighborhood council supported their request that Metro conduct more comprehensive community engagement on affordable housing projects slated for vacant lots in the area. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

At Thursday’s Metro Board meeting, boardmembers took action on several items pertaining to the future of Metro-owned lots in Boyle Heights. The Board approved motions allowing affordable housing projects at 1st and Soto, Cesar Chavez and Soto, and 1st and Lorena to continue moving forward, while rescinding the agreement with McCormack Baron Salazar regarding their plans to build a grocery store at Cesar Chavez and Fickett.

The actions on the affordable housing projects were a long time coming.

At the end of 2014, Metro had been moving full-steam ahead to approve a slew of projects set for Metro-owned properties in Boyle Heights when the deafening uproar over the proposed makeover of Mariachi Plaza ground everything to a halt.

Recognizing due diligence had not been done with regard to community outreach, the Board slowed down the process by granting “phased” or “interim” Exclusive Negotiated Agreements (ENAs) for affordable housing projects from Abode Communities (Cesar Chavez and Soto) and East L.A. Community Corporation (ELACC) and Bridge Housing Corporation (on the two lots at 1st and Soto). These new agreements gave the developers a three-month window to conduct intensive community outreach and incorporate feedback into site plans.

Metro also granted an extension of the existing 18-month ENA to A Community of Friends (ACOF), a developer which, since June of 2013, has struggled to get the plans right for supportive affordable housing on the lot at Lorena and 1st Streets. And, it scrapped the controversial project slated for Mariachi Plaza altogether. [The urban design/architecture firm of Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio (with the architectural team of Perkins + Will and DakeLuna) will conduct design charrettes and community outreach to help create the Development Guidelines for both Mariachi Plaza and the Cesar Chavez/Fickett project in early 2016.]*

Still feeling steamrolled, the youth of CALO YouthBuild in Boyle Heights fought to see Metro extend the interim-ENA period from three to six months. They also asked that Metro revamp their advisory committee process, which has tended to lack transparency and relied heavily on the usual suspects for “community” input. The youth wanted to ensure that a wider range of stakeholders would be included in the conversation about the future of the community in a way that “afforded [them] the time needed to understand how these projects will impact their lives.”

Proposed development sites/Metro-owned properties in Boyle Heights. Almost all are slated for affordable housing. Source: Metro

Proposed development sites/Metro-owned properties in Boyle Heights. Almost all are slated for affordable housing. Source: Metro

The extra time given to the affordable housing developers proved very valuable. Read more…

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Terms of Art: Boyle Heights Youth Rally against Being Columbused by the New York Times

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Ray Vargas works on a mural featuring the Boyle Heights Bridge Runners and scenes from the community at the Ambularte event last Saturday. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Speaking about her new 35,000 square foot gallery space, located in the western industrial edge of Boyle Heights, art dealer Michele Maccarone told the New York Times, “It still has a dangerous quality — I kind of like that. I like that we spent a fortune on security.”

It was a line that, to the students at CALÓ YouthBuild in Boyle Heights that read the Times‘ story in their classes, felt like a slap in the face.

Well, it was one of many such lines found in the article, New Art Galleries Enjoy a Los Angeles Advantage: Space, actually.

In chronicling the expansion of the arts district to the east side of the river, the Times‘ Melena Ryzik had managed to paint a picture of Boyle Heights that few from the neighborhood recognized.

Some of the blame lay with the artists and gallery-owners who were quoted as celebrating the rapid turnover in the arts district that saw homeless people replaced by “guys with mustaches, sipping lattes” and the growth of a “young scene” that inspired Boyle Heights transplants with the “energy” and “momentum” needed to take risks with their work.

But most of the problems lay with the assumptions made by the journalist herself. Calling the spaces along Mission Road “outposts” in an area of Boyle Heights “that still has an anything-goes feel,” Ryzik pointed to the newer galleries as “beacons in the neighborhood” and praised them for giving “the area the urban cultural density that Los Angeles mostly lacks.”

“I cried a little when I read that,” said Stephanie Ponce, one of the YouthBuild students that had helped put together Ambularte, a mobile art exhibit held outside Maccarone’s new space as a way to protest how the community had been characterized. “They are saying we need culture…[our] people are our culture!”

Sergio Quintero, the student that took the lead on organizing last Saturday’s event, agreed.

Newcomers to the area wanted to be there because of the vibrant murals found on so many of Boyle Heights’ walls, he said. What they cared about was being able to feel “edgy,” not being challenged to get to know the local people, artists, or the histories those murals represented.

The Ambularte event represented an opportunity, the students felt, to remind the larger arts world that there was an entire community with a rich and storied history of intertwining the arts with culture, heritage, and resistance just up the hill from where the new galleries stood. And that it was a community that they were proud of and that they loved.

"Art is Community; Art is Resistance" is projected on the wall of Michele Maccarone's new gallery space on Mission Road in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Art is Community; Art is Resistance” is projected on the wall of Michele Maccarone’s new gallery space on Mission Road in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“The event is [being held] outside,” Quintero continued, “because that’s where our art usually is.”

He was alluding to the community’s history of exclusion from the kinds of fine arts circles within which Maccarone and others featured in the Times’ story are able to move with much greater ease. Read more…

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Equity Advocates Discuss Needs of “Invisible” Cyclists on HuffPost Live

Pedestrians wait to be able to cross Jefferson and continue south on Central along the sidewalk. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Pedestrians and cyclists both take refuge on the sidewalk as they head south on Central Ave. in South Los Angeles. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Last week, the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University published a story declaring that “Most Cyclists Are Working-Class Immigrants, Not Hipsters.”

If you spend any time in the streets and/or pay attention to cycling issues, this is something you probably already knew. At least, intuitively. It’s been a little harder to substantiate that claim using data, as the article explains, thanks to the way the Census lumps bicycle commuting to work in with motorcycling and taking taxis. The fact that the poor may also combine multiple modes to get from A to B (and C and D, depending on how many jobs or obligations they have) complicates the data. So does the fact that lower-income residents of color, particularly immigrants, are the people least likely to answer Census or other surveys or have habits that fit well into standardized categories.

The fact that the urban hipster persists as the face of cycling despite being the minority, author Andrew Keatts suggests, means that we aren’t dedicating enough time or resources to understanding and responding to the unique needs of the “invisible” majority — the cyclists that have the fewest resources or options at their disposal.

And then an interesting thing happens. Keatts reaches out to Adonia Lugo, former Equity Initiative Manager at the League of American Bicyclists, Sam Ollinger, who heads up Bike San Diego, the L.A.-based group Multicultural Communities for Mobility (MCM), and Watts-based John Jones III of the East Side Riders Bike Club to ask about specific challenges that keep poorer cyclists from being seen, heard, or able to ride safely. He hears about gangs, fears of gentrification, lack of access to reliable transit at off-peak hours, lack of access to reliable bikes and safety equipment (e.g. lights), and the lack of time to participate in city planning processes, among other things.

But instead of broadening the analysis to think about transportation in a more holistic context that accommodates these issues, he seems to try to fit their needs back into a bike-specific box.

He ends the article by paraphrasing his conversation with Geoff Carleton of Traffic Engineers, Inc. (tasked with putting together Houston’s bike plan), who he says argues that “there’s a formula out there…for increasing bike safety and multi-modal access that fits what each neighborhood wants. In some places it’s better infrastructure, but in others, it’s finding a balance between safety, education and enforcement.”

But what if there isn’t a bicycle-specific formula out there? Read more…

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Area Mobility Advocate Exhausted by Bus, Makes Decision to Buy Car

Erick Huerta checks his phone as he waits for the bus on Western Ave. at Exposition Blvd. At this point he has already taken one bus and one train and has been in transit for an hour and fifteen minutes. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Erick Huerta checks his phone as he waits for the bus on Western Ave. at Exposition Blvd. At this point, he has already taken one bus, one train, walked three-quarters of a mile, and been in transit for an hour and twenty minutes. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

What was I writing about, a woman wanted to know.

She had heard me explain to a gentleman passenger on the bus that, just because I had a camera with me, I was not also a model. Nor was I a stripper. I was a journalist.

That news seemed to have disappointed him. He had fond memories of taking fifty dollars’ worth of one dollar bills to the Gold Digger and “ballin'” as a young man. So much so that even when I explained I was interested in seeing more investment in the bus system so people could get to their destinations in a reasonable amount of time, he kept taking the subject back to the ladies of “extraordinary talents” that he had once known.

I turned to the woman that had asked the question, gestured toward my friend, social justice advocate, and noted Boyle Heights resident Erick Huerta, and said, “His commute.”

“Commute” did not seem like the right word to describe a trek that involved two buses, a train, just under a mile’s worth of walking, and anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours of transit time for one trip. Coming home was more of the same, adding as many as four hours to an 8-hour (but sometimes longer, as Huerta is in the non-profit world and there are often community meetings) work day. And that’s when service wasn’t held up because of a bus or train breakdown, something which happened far too often for his taste.

“It shouldn’t take me two hours to go 12 miles,” he said as we boarded the first bus at 8:08 that morning.

He’s right.

By bike, the commute takes under an hour. And when he’s gotten a lift in a co-worker’s car (or on a rare occasion, a very costly Uber/Lyft ride), it takes just half an hour.

It was so crazy getting a ride after work one day and realizing he had the time to meet a friend for dinner and just hang out, he said.

It’s the reason he has decided to buy a car.

Not to drive it every day, he reassured me. But to be able to have the option of doing so when he wanted to have time to have a life outside of work and commuting.

You see, Huerta has never owned a car.

Brought to the U.S. as a young child, his undocumented status meant that, until recently, he couldn’t get a driver’s license. And because of his status, the struggle to find stable work and even stable living arrangements, at times, meant that a car would have been out of reach, anyways.

Growing up, his family owned one car and it was mainly for his father to use for work and special errands, like runs to the grocery store. For everything else his family did and everywhere else Huerta needed to go, there was the bus.

And it kind of sucked.

Read more…

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Boyle Heights to See Improvements in Phase Two of the Eastside Access Project

The streets that will see improvements are Boyle, Soto, State, and St. Louis (between Cesar Chavez to the north and 4th to the south). Source: ATP proposal

The streets that will see improvements in phase two of the Eastside Access project are Boyle, Soto, State, and St. Louis (between Cesar Chavez to the north and 4th to the south). Image: Deborah Murphy Urban Design + Planning

“I’m here to ask that you really take into account accessibility [when implementing any new improvements],” Boyle Heights resident and advocate for those with disabilities, Hector Ochoa, said as the meeting discussing phase two of the Eastside Access Project came to a close Wednesday night.

Phase one — the $12 million in improvements along 1st Street intended to enhance the pedestrian environment between two important Metro Gold Line stops in Boyle Heights — had not done so well in that regard.

As documented here recently, new bike racks in the form of flowers and butterflies were placed in the door zones of parking spaces, making it a challenge for wheelchair users like Ochoa to extend their ramps and exit their vehicles.

The flower bike rack blocks access to the side doors of a van sporting a disabled placard. If someone in a wheelchair needs that side door to be able to enter and exit their vehicle, they may have to park quite a distance from their intended destination. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The flower bike rack blocks access to the passenger side doors of a van bearing a disabled placard. If someone in a wheelchair needs a side door to be able to enter and exit their vehicle, they may have to park quite a distance from their intended destination. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Throughout their presentation on the potential improvements phase two would entail, staff from the Department of Public Works, the Bureau of Street Services, and Councilmember Jose Huizar’s office reiterated that the new curb ramps, curb extensions, and improvements around bus stops would all be in compliance ADA standards.

Familiar with this mantra and unconvinced by it, Ochoa reiterated, “Often times the bare minimum is done [for those with disabilities], when we could do a little more.”

Making the street more accessible for people like him, he concluded, would benefit everyone that used the street.

Given that the phase two plans for Boyle, St. Louis, Soto, and State appear rather basic, at present, problems of that nature should (hopefully) be easily avoidable.

The proposal seeking $2,237,000 in funding from the Active Transportation Program named sidewalk repair, curb extensions and improved crossings, new trees, and bus stop lighting as enhancements that would improve connectivity between the commercial corridors of 1st St. and Cesar Chavez, to transit options, and to important amenities (Hollenbeck Park) and services (schools, senior centers, medical facilities, etc.). The $3.65 million project (with matching funds added in) would also build on active transportation improvements made as part of phase one of the Eastside Access project, the anticipated $5.6 million in improvements to the sidewalks and overall pedestrian environment slated for Cesar Chavez in 2017, and a Safe Routes to School project intended to make pedestrian access to Breed Street and Sheridan Elementary Schools safer.

Because bus benches are provided free of charge by Martin Outdoor Media (in exchange for advertising being allowed on the benches) benches will also be added to many of the bus stops.

The purpose of the meeting held Wednesday night, while in part to remedy the failure to do outreach ahead of the implementation of phase one of the project, was meant to give residents of the impacted streets a heads’ up regarding pending changes and to get their input on the kinds of street trees, bus benches, and bus lighting they would like to see. (Survey options follow after the jump.) Read more…

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New Documentary about Boyle Heights Opens New Urbanism Film Festival

Multi-modal Boyle Heights: A family rides bikes, boys skateboard, and car commuters make their way home. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Multi-modal Boyle Heights: A family rides bikes, boys skateboard, and commuters make their way home past the historic Boyle Hotel and Mariachi Plaza. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“There’s a lot of beauty [in Boyle Heights],” says actor, writer, and director Xavi Moreno in East L.A. Interchange, a documentary about the history of Boyle Heights that will screen the opening night of the New Urbanism Film Festival on October 8. “If we invest in that beauty, then we invest in our community… as opposed to investing in things that might destroy what Boyle Heights has always been.”

Moreno’s perspective is one I’ve written about many times while tracking changes in this lower-income and largely Mexican-American community over the last few years, most recently with regard to developments Metro had planned for a complete overhaul of Mariachi Plaza.

And it’s a perspective readers from outside the community often find controversial, associating it with “anti”-ness: anti-outsider, anti-white people, anti-change, and/or anti-development. Or they see it as a NIMBYist position that denies Boyle Heights’ own storied history of being a haven for people of many different ethnicities, including Caucasians.

Ever the occasional optimist, I like to think that more knowledge about the history of the community could help remedy this disconnect.

Because when you know the history of how Boyle Heights came to be — how the institutionalization of racism in city planning and policy via redlining, government-sponsored white flight, “sanitation” sweeps, urban renewal programs that razed housing and funded freeway construction aimed at displacing and isolating poor ethnic communities, overt discrimination in education, the denial of economic opportunity, the labeling of non-white cultures as subversive, immigration raids, police brutality, and deliberate disinvestment constrained Boyle Heights’ ability to flourish — it becomes very easy to understand why the existing residents are raising questions about race, class, and the intentions of both public and private investors in the community.

And knowing how the community managed to thrive in the face of these obstacles and take pride in the heritage they were once told rendered them “unteachable” and “mentally inferior” makes it easier to grasp what it is that residents like Moreno are looking to preserve and invest in. Rather than “re-imagining,” “revitalizing,” or “place-making” their community, as is popular in planning now, they seek to help Boyle Heights grow and develop while remaining true to what they believe it represents. And what it represents is community, culture, resistance and resilience, unique voices and forms of artistic expression, struggle, transcendence, family, and heritage. The physical landscape matters, in other words, but it is the people, their histories, and their relationships with each other that give it meaning.

These are all things that I’ve tried to convey in previous articles in one form or another. But it’s one thing to read descriptions of how a community feels about itself and another altogether to see it for yourself. Which is probably why the arrival of Betsy Kalin’s East L.A. Interchange feels rather timely.

Eight years in the making, it began as the Connecticut-born Kalin’s exploration of what made Boyle Heights a place that people were proud to be from and felt rooted in, even long after having moved away.

Early on in the process, her focus was on residents’ transcendence of racial boundaries to forge a strong sense of community and enduring friendships in an era when state-imposed segregation was the order of the day. To that end, we hear from a range of elder African-American, Japanese, and Jewish Angelenos (and, occasionally, will.i.am) that grew up in the area in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s and have memories of the days when Boyle Heights was a veritable United Nations of neighborhoods and everyone knew a little bit of everyone else’s language.

Cognizant that it is hard to speak about the history of the community without investigating the discriminatory policies that gave rise to it, however, Kalin seems to have shifted gears a bit. While still (a little too) driven by the narrative of multi-ethnic harmony, the film also incorporates the voices of experts like George Sanchez, Professor of American Studies & Ethnicity and History at USC, to illuminate those links.

It was the right choice. Read more…

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Umbrellas Tallied during Boyle Heights Pedestrian Count Suggest Street Trees Important to Mobility

New trees will take years to offer a fraction of the shade and other benefits that the ficus trees slated for removal do. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

New trees will take years to offer a fraction of the shade and other benefits that the ficus trees slated for removal did. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

While counting pedestrians and cyclists in the transit-dependent and heavily-pedestrian community of Boyle Heights for the Bike and Pedestrian Count this past Saturday, I got to thinking about street trees.

As part of the Eastside Access Project, the section of 1st Street between the Aliso/Pico and the Soto Gold Line Stations in Boyle Heights saw a bevy of new trees put in (above, at left) last year. The 90-plus old ficus trees that previously lined the street had given it much-needed shade, but destroyed its sidewalks in a number of spots. The new trees are unfortunately still several years off from providing any relief from the sun, but they are better than nothing.

Well, that’s actually not true in a lot of cases (below). But it will be. Eventually.

The arrival of bike racks mimicking elements of the natural world served to point out the lack of nature along the street. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The shadow cast by a new tree on 1st is too scrawny to shade much more than the parking meter. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

There are still many more to be planted, as I understand it, given that the city is required to plant two trees for every one tree removed.

Which is fantastic, because Boyle Heights is in desperate need of trees.

Trees would not only offer much-needed shade but also help to clean the air polluted by the many freeways that surround the community.

Boyle Heights needs more trees, both to provide shade and help clean the air. (Google maps)

Boyle Heights needs more trees, both to provide shade and help clean the air. Except for Cesar Chavez and some of the side streets, most streets are devoid of greenery. (Google maps)

Really, judging by the map above, you could pick any corridor (minus Cesar Chavez) and knock yourself out planting street trees. Read more…