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Pop-Up Plaza Enhances Art Walk, Hints at What Could Be in Leimert

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The blocking off 43rd Pl. in Leimert Park created space for people to play this past Sunday. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

As we watched the group led by female elders drumming their way toward us, Rashida, a vendor of wonderful-smelling body scrubs, leaned over and said, “You can’t get this anywhere else in L.A.!”

She’s so right.

For the last four years, the monthly art walk in Leimert Park has brought together community, culture, art, and African heritage in a truly unique way.

Few places in the city, if any, feel so vibrant and warm as Leimert does on the last Sunday of the month.

Which is why the Pop-Up Plaza event at this art walk was so exciting — it offered a glimpse into the future of what Leimert Park Village could be if 43rd Place (the street running along the base of the village) were to be closed to cars and converted into a plaza.

The idea of making that conversion is one that many in the community have been kicking around for some time.

With the birth of the 20/20 Vision initiative — the strategy to drive the economic development of Leimert Park Village and its creative district in tandem with the arrival of the Metro station — the potential value of creating a plaza space has come more sharply into focus. So much so that the community is currently in the process of putting together a People St. application in the hopes of making that happen sooner rather than later.

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Drummers serenade a woman as they move around Leimert Plaza. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Speak to anyone who has been coming to the area for years, and you will hear stories of the incredible street life Leimert once hosted: chess games up and down the sidewalk, spontaneous poetry performances, live jazz blasting, and a strong sense of community.

The loss of Richard Fulton and his coffee house and jazz emporium, which had played host to much of that joyful noise, helped push that culture into hibernation.

On days like this past Sunday, however, when several generations of Leimert residents and aficionados turn out in droves to celebrate art, music, community, and unity, that culture feels tangible and ready to be revived. It is just looking for a home base.

A plaza might be a good place to start.

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Women serenade the plaza with gospel and love. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

In addition to the existing arts spaces and businesses, the opening of new gallery Papillion (on Degnan), the construction of artist Mark Bradford’s art and community space (on the corner of Degnan and 43rd Pl.), and the renovation of the Vision Theater (still underway), offer the possibility of a packed calendar of events that can draw crowds to spend the afternoon or evening in the area.

Read more…

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If Cleanliness is Next to Godliness, Surely it Should Also be a Component of “Complete”-ness, No?

Bus stop, bus goes, she stays, trash grows... Olympic Blvd., Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Bus stop, bus goes, trash stays, trash grows on Olympic Blvd.  Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

As folks were preparing to cut the cake in honor of the Complete Streets Day motion put forth by Councilmember Jose Huizar at City Hall last week, I was getting geared up to volunteer at a high school located in his district, around which many of the streets are decidedly incomplete.

I had run into Roosevelt High School teacher extraordinaire Jorge Lopez a couple of weeks prior; students from his food justice class were helping give a tour of two corner markets that had received healthy makeovers courtesy of Public Matters. When he heard I was interested in interviewing the students involved in the project, he suggested I stop in his classroom instead and assist the students in reworking their own interviews with food activists and workers in the area into articles.

Hell, yes! I thought.

Teens — besides being inspiring to work with — are often incredible, unfiltered informants about the unique dynamics of their communities and how those dynamics impact mobility, health, and access to opportunity.

When I first worked with his English class two years ago, students were writing speeches about things they would like to see improved in their neighborhood. Given the myriad challenging circumstances that the youth came from, immigrant rights, living wages, affordable housing, protection from gang activity, and access to healthy food and other health resources unsurprisingly figured prominently into their discussions.

But, I was also struck that one of the recurring themes was an inferiority complex many expressed with regard to East L.A.

It was so much cleaner, they complained.

Complete Streets should also encompass clean streets. Couch on Rivera St. (just off 1st), a frequent dumping site. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Complete Streets should also encompass clean streets. Couch on Rivera St. (just off 1st), a frequent dumping site. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

When we think of “Complete Streets,” we tend to focus on ways to facilitate mobility by “design[ing] and operat[ing streets] to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.”

But, for these students, it was clear that having streets that looked clean, inviting, and safe was important for mobility and access, too.

In comparing their neighborhoods to East L.A., many voiced a belief that people in East L.A. took more pride in their community because the sidewalks and streets there were well taken care of. Boyle Heights streets’, they said, felt run down and forgotten.

It was something that bothered them a lot. Read more…

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Feasibility Study on Slauson Corridor Rail-to-River Project Takes Another Step Forward

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. is not as empty as we imagine. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. is not as empty as we imagine. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

How are you going to get community input?

It was a question asked by one of the few community members who had shown up to Metro’s Rail to River meeting last week on the potential conversion of 8.3 miles of the rail right-of-way along Slauson Ave. into an active transportation corridor.

He and a friend were looking at one of the boards illustrating the neighborhoods the corridor ran through and speaking with Ryan Johnson, a planner with the Alta Planning & Design team working on the feasibility study for the project.

I told him that was a good question.

I had heard from several people involved in the project that Metro had been reluctant to do too much community engagement at this point because they are still studying the feasibility of the project. Getting the community excited about a project they are not sure they can bring to fruition hadn’t seemed prudent.

The bike and pedestrian paths would run along the Harbor Subdivision tracks, starting just north of Vernon, at Washington, heading south parallel to Santa Fe, heading west at Slauson, and taking a turn southward near Western. It would end at the Crenshaw Line stop at Florence. (map taken from 2008 Harbor Division study)

The bike and pedestrian paths would run along the Harbor Subdivision tracks, starting just north of Vernon, at Washington, heading south parallel to Santa Fe, heading west at Slauson, and taking a turn southward near Western. It would end at the Crenshaw Line stop at Florence. It could also extend along Randolph (where the path turns north) southwest toward the river. (Map taken from 2008 Harbor Division study)

And while that makes sense, to a degree, if feasibility involves projections of who will use the space and how, knowing how residents currently use the space, their concerns, their aspirations for it, and insight into elements that would entice them to use it would seem important.

Their input would also matter with regard to routes. With regard to the question of whether Metro should invest first in extending the Slauson path along Randoph St. to the river or follow it north toward downtown and Vernon, for example, locals who work in either of those areas might have very different perspective than those who were looking to use the bike facilities for recreation.

With that in mind, I told the young man and his friend, I had spent the weekend prior to the meeting engaging vendors and other folks along the corridor about the meeting and stuffing flyers into their hands.

The neighbors — all of whom unequivocally viewed Slauson as a dangerous, largely inaccessible, and unfriendly space — had been thrilled to hear about the potential for a park-like zone.

All of the vendors remembered me from when I had interviewed them a few months ago and were eager for updates. As before, they were interested in the potential conversion of the space, but apprehensive about what it might mean for them. Most lived in the area and had been vending there on the weekend for several years. They did it because they needed the income. But, they also felt that their presence helped make the area safer — without them, there are few eyes with vested interests in the area looking out onto a street dominated by industrial structures.

Despite their concerns, they were reluctant to commit to attending.

Proclaiming their presence, many felt, might bring unwanted attention and result in their being shut down. Back on November 6th of last year, Councilmembers Jose Huizar and Curren Price introduced a motion asking for the City Council to draft a report and a proposal for the legalization of street vending within 90 days. The Council has yet to make a move in that direction, and the vendors are aware that their presence remains precarious.

I could go to the meeting, the vendor of miscellaneous tools and appliances set up at the corner of Main St. had affirmed in Spanish, but I am a little afraid. I have a permit to vend and I pay taxes — I always have — but I am afraid to speak up.

Why don’t you just come to listen, so you will know what’s going on? I asked. If you have any questions, I can ask them for you so you won’t have to worry.

I could go, he repeated, nodding and folding up the flyers and putting them in his pocket. I will think about it.

He didn’t show up, unfortunately.

Nor did the others.

Read more…

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Streets and Creeks, Part 1: Why Fish Need Bicycles

Given all the coverage and advisories about Los Angeles receiving heavy rains today, Streetsblog is kicking off an occasional series that makes the connections between rain, streets, creeks and people. 

Woman-Man-Fish-Bike quote on a T-shirt via Etsy

Woman-Man-Fish-Bike T-shirt design via Etsy

There’s an oft-repeated phrase that emerged during the 1970s Feminist Movements that states “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” It’s credited to Irnia Dunn, and appears on posters, T-shirts, and even in a U2 song. Overall it’s a great quote for rethinking women’s independence and agency.

It appears that when trying to imagine two entirely unconnected things, Dunn perhaps seemed to think that there just weren’t any connections between fish and bicycles. Certainly fish can’t ride bikes.

Streetsblog asserts that fish do need bicycles.

Fish need pedestrians too.

And transit.

Also complete streets, parking reform, freeway removal, and pretty much the whole livability agenda that Streetsblog is known for.

What’s the problem?

Streetsblog readers are familiar with the most obvious problems inherent in the present car-heavy transportation system. Cars kill lots of people. They cause air pollution, including greenhouse gases. In addition to health problems from toxic air, over-reliance on cars makes for a sedentary lifestyle, leading to obesity and chronic disease. That’s a short summary, leaving a lot out.

What may be somewhat less intuitive is that cars are also a primary cause of water pollution.

Read more…

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Garbage Removal Makes Space for New Trash to Accumulate

The tires were left neatly stacked, and two more may have been added to the pile since BSS cleaned up the area. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The tires were left neatly stacked in front of the vacant lot at 41st and Main; one may have been added to the pile since BSS cleaned up the area. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

I lost the last of three Turkish wool hats on Sunday.

Silly as it may sound, it genuinely bummed me out. I had brought them back from Istanbul over a decade ago and they were wonderful reminders of where I had been, offered a link (of sorts) to my heritage, and, most importantly, were very warm for biking on winter nights.

I remembered yanking stuff out of my bag at the vacant lot at 41st and Main I photographed for my story on blight and wondered if I had inadvertently dropped it and added it to the pile of stinky garbage occupying the sidewalk.

Lovely, I thought.

Are you there, hat? It's me, Sahra. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Are you there, hat? It’s me, Sahra. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

I am nothing if not selectively nostalgic, however.

So, I decided to swing by the lot on my way home from the Rail-to-River meeting held at a school near Slauson and Avalon last night to see if perhaps it was there. The garbage pile had been there for well over a month, so I figured that if it had fallen amongst the other discarded clothing items, it probably wouldn’t have moved. The only question would be how badly it had been contaminated.

I was stunned by what I saw. Read more…

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Boyle Heights Forum Tonight: Neighborhood Land Trust Seeks to Help Communities Take Charge of Blight

The sun sets on the vacant lot at 85th and Vermont, directly across the street from County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas' Constituent Service Center. photo: sahra.

The sun sets on one of two massive vacant lots along Vermont, just north of Manchester. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Vacant lots constitute a huge thorn in the side of communities around Los Angeles.

It isn’t just because they are ugly or represent missed opportunities.

As I noted in yesterday’s piece, Blight Begets Blight, by embodying what appears to be the city’s disinterest in the upkeep of a neighborhood, vacant lots become magnets for trash and illegal dumping. In so doing, they remind residents that they really have little ownership over the health and well-being of their own neighborhoods.

It hurts a community’s self-esteem and can impact economic development as well.

For the guys that sit outside their barbershop and stare across the street at the two block-long lots that adorn Vermont Ave. just north of Manchester (pictured above and below, at right), it’s downright depressing. No amount of advertising or sprucing up of their storefront is going to convince anyone from outside the community that their shop and community constitute a great destination.

Vacant lots on the scale of those along Vermont make economic development challenging. (Google map screen shot)

Vacant lots on the scale of those along Vermont make economic development challenging. (Google map screen shot)

What organizers Israel Cruz and Fernando Mejia from the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT) are finding, however, is that while everybody unequivocally wants to see vacant lots transformed, each community has a different vision for the possibilities of those spaces.

They’ve been taking note of these visions over the past few months at the community forums they’ve held around the city in support of the LANLT’s TILL program.

TILL — Transforming Inner-City Lost Lots — is a project dedicated to cataloging vacant and surplus land within the city’s portfolio and identifying approximately 15 parcels that could be re-purposed to provide gardens and green space access to communities.

The visions they’ve gathered at the forums will be incorporated into the development of an urban greening toolkit and website which will serve as resources for residents and community organizations looking to work with the city to take ownership of and transform the parcels.

The unique visions and needs of each community has made creating a universal toolkit somewhat complicated. Read more…

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Blight Begets Blight: Vacant Lots are Popular Dumping Grounds in South L.A.

Vacant lots are magnets for illegal dumping. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Vacant lots are magnets for illegal dumping. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

I was on my way home after taking photos of the pretty new parklet that had popped up along Vermont Ave. a month ago, when I stopped by this beauty of a vacant lot (above) at 41st and Main.

Unusually, the gate to the lot was open and the remnants of a red sofa had managed to sneak itself in, apparently in need of a spot to luxuriate in the winter sun away from the stinking pile of garbage left on the sidewalk.

Fetid garbage bags line the sidewalk in January, making that stretch nearly impassable. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Fetid garbage bags line the sidewalk in January, making that stretch nearly impassable. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

While the sofa has since been removed and the gate closed, the garbage bags remain.

In the month since I first photographed them, they’ve been picked apart by scavengers and scattered all over the place, making sidewalk passage even more difficult.

What remains of the garbage bags at 41st and Main. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

What remains of the garbage bags at 41st and Main as of this past Sunday. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

And, they’ve been joined by newer, even stinkier and more dangerous friends.

What remains of the garbage bags left at the corner of 41st and Main. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Garbage attracts more garbage. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Some of the newer garbage also included hazardous waste (i.e. motor oil) and boards with nails sticking out of them and some of it appears to have been set on fire recently. Read more…

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Long Beach: Garcia Follows Garcetti in Restoring LA River

A rendering of the RiverLink project. Photo courtesy of the City of Long Beach

A rendering of the RiverLink project. Photo courtesy of the City of Long Beach

Back in April, former director of Long Beach Park, Recreation & Marine Phil Hester sat in front of a bunch of urbanerds and bicyclists, pedestrian-oriented folks and designers, and discussed an idea that is both brilliant and needed on a community level: the 2002 RiverLinks projects. RiverLinks would vastly use the underused L.A. River by connecting the west sides of Districts 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, and 9 to the river via biking/ped/green utopia.

Of course, as with many projects in Long Beach, there was a lot of talk but little action and the bold project soon became—like the I.M. Pei museum, like the Art Exchange, like, like, like…—a document and little else. After all, Hester was in April, unquestionably, preachin’ to the choir.

(The 2002 River Link Report is available off our Scribd Account.)

However, Councilmember and mayoral hopeful Robert Garcia wants to reinvigorate and update the 11-year-old RiverLinks project by not only including some of his own bold proposals (remember his enthusiastic idea to adaptively re-use the Shoemaker Bridge?) but also largely mimicking Mayor Eric Garcetti’s own reclaiming of the River by calling on Long Beach to partner up with Los Angeles.

Garcetti, no more than two weeks ago sought some $1 billion from the feds for River revitalization in a trip to Washington, D.C. The $1 billion is in addition to the roughly $200 million set aside to restore a massive section of the northern part of the LA river to make way for kayakers, hikers, bird-watchers, cyclists, and all those other strange creatures who actually enjoy a little nature in their urban landscape. Garcetti even scored 15 minutes with Obama—not that it will help much given the House’s perpetual cutting of federal spending along with the Army Corps massive list of awaiting-funding-projects (which total $60B—pocketchange, obviously).

According to Garcia’s logic, the fact that Long Beach is home to the river furthest down its stream makes the stakes greatest for the city. And the proposal to update the RiverLinks project and put focus on the river was met with a resounding yes from the council, as the resolution—co-sponsored by Councilmembers Suja Lowenthal and Al Austin—was unanimously approved yesterday. Read more…

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Friends of the Hollywood Central Park Challenge Us to Design Our Own Park

Can you do better? Rendering from the Friends of the Hollywood Central Park

Friends of the Hollywood Central Park (FHCP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a 44-acre street-level park over the Hollywood Freeway in a densely populated and park-poor area of the city, launched a new facet of thir website today to encourage everyone to tap their inner architect and create their own dream park. You can visit the Design Your Own Park Tool inside the Hollywood Central Park website by clicking here.

The new feature allows individuals to create their own version of Hollywood Central Park,  by offering a wide gamut of possibilities features to choose from. These range from large multipurpose fields, cafés, dog parks and libraries to the smaller features such as rocks, trees, stones and benches. For those with more time and immagination, it also adds the ability to invent your own park element at the exact location they desire, orient it as you wish, and write notes to explain your thinking.

“Knowing the level of interest in the community about Hollywood Central Park, we decided the best way to get input on what should be built was give everybody a chance to create their dream park,” said Laurie Goldman, FHCP president. “This is everybody’s park, and everybody should have an opportunity to submit their own ideas. Now they can, and in the process can be involved in creating Hollywood history!”

One of the first users of the new website is Council District 13′s newly minted Council Member, Mitch O’Farrell. O’Farrell, a longtime proponent of the park since his time working in the field offices of his predecessor, is impressed by the new site’s simplicity and the open-ness of inviting all to participate in the design process.

“Friends of the Hollywood Central Park continue to embrace community input through the use of cutting edge technology,” said O’Farrell via press release. “The new park planner feature on the organization’s website allows real-time engagement, as well as visualization of another great public space in Los Angeles.” Read more…

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City Throws a Party. Press Throws a Fit. This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.

To see the full schedule for Celebrate L.A., click on the image.

This Friday, the City of Los Angeles is throwing itself a party in Grand Park from 5 pm to 10 pm. There will be music by local acts, student groups and celebrity musicians. Chefs, some of whom are on television, will give healthy cooking demonstrations. There will be food trucks. There will be free nachos.  President Bill Clinton will speak. Wanda Sykes will tell jokes. Ryan Seacrest will do whatever it is Ryan Seacrest does.

To see the full schedule for Celebrate L.A., click on the image. 

It’s the kind of event some people will remember their whole lives.

The hefty price tag, well over a quarter of a million dollars, for the event is being picked up by local businesses and foundations, except for $75,000 for police and other city services. There is no cost to attend. All of the entertainers, from Sykes to Placido Domingo to the Plaza de la Raza Youth Mariachi, are donating their time.

Naturally, this relatively low-cost public event caused a massive media freakout with the Daily News, L.A. Weekly and other conservative news outlets proclaiming that the “Mayor was throwing himself a party on our dime” or something to that effect. In fact, the Mayor’s office pooled money from several of the city’s cultural events budgets to make one large event, one that thousands of people could, and will, enjoy.

“The city has done a really great job in leveraging minimal city funds to create a great event,” claims Aaron Paley, the President and co-founder of Community Arts Resources (CARS). ”It’s a great event, that’s free, that’s going to bring people together o celebrate the city. It’s a really great L.A. event, and we really don’t have enough of them.”

CARS is in charge of the logistics for the event, and is known locally for its role planning large public events such as CicLAvia and last weekend’s Santa Monica Festival.

And while the press is focused on the politics of the event, breathlessly wondering whether or not Eric Garcetti will attend, they’re missing the point. It’s not just cool that the City is throwing a party in Grand Park, it’s actually good policy, too.

“It’s really important,” said David Sloane, professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy. “I believe that civic events, social events, that break down silos and bring together residents of a city play an enormous role in creating relationships and making people realize the kinds of relationships they have in the city.”

Or put more simply, holding events that celebrate what makes a place significant and original is just something that great cities do. Read more…