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South LA

In an effort to show how transportation, open space, planning and other issues impact the health and character 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 the Communities Editor for Streetsblog Los Angeles and is leading our coverage efforts in these communities. This page serves as a place to read Sahra’s and all of Streetsblog’s coverage of issues in South L.A. Contact Sahra at sahra[at]streetsblog.org or on twitter: @sahrasulaiman.

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Scramble Crosswalks Ready for Their Star Turn in Hollywood

Chicago's first pedestrian scramble, or "Barnes Dance", at the downtown intersection of Jackson Blvd. and State St. Pedestrians are allowed to cross all directions, including diagonally, every three light cycles. All vehicular turns have been prohibited to improve traffic flow. Photo: Chicago's first pedestrian scramble, or "Barnes Dance", at the downtown intersection of Jackson Blvd. and State St. Pedestrians are allowed to cross all directions, including diagonally, every three light cycles. All vehicular turns have been prohibited to improve traffic flow. KEVIN ZOLKIEWICZ/FLICKR via ##http://www.scpr.org/programs/airtalk/2014/11/03/40143/los-angeles-ponders-diagonal-crosswalks-what-are-t/##Airtalk/KPCC##

Chicago’s first pedestrian scramble, or “Barnes Dance”, at the downtown intersection of Jackson Blvd. and State St. Pedestrians are allowed to cross all directions, including diagonally, every three light cycles. All vehicular turns have been prohibited to improve traffic flow. Photo: KEVIN ZOLKIEWICZ/FLICKR via Airtalk/KPCC

Responding to community concerns that the high volume of pedestrian traffic at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue was creating an unsafe crossing, City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and the Department of Transportation recently announced that a “pedestrian scramble” will be installed by the end of the year.

The pedestrian scramble, aka The Barnes Dance, is basically an intersection which has a “pedestrian only” phase in its signal timing. During this time, pedestrians are not just limited to crossing east-west or north-south, but can actually cross to the opposite corner by cutting straight through the middle of the street.

Los Angeles already has a few pedestrian scramble intersections near the college campuses of USC and UCLA. In addition, Pasadena and Beverly Hills have installed scrambles at high-volume intersections. If you’re not familiar with the scrambles, check out the below video by Streetfilms celebrating Los Angeles’ scrambles that was filmed in 2008.

“Hollywood and Highland is our red carpet entrance for people from around the world who come to experience Los Angeles’ center stage,” said Seleta Reynolds, LADOT General Manager. “The new intersection design will prioritize the safety and comfort of people walking. We plan to implement this change in consultation with the community and will evaluate the before and after effects.”

In addition to residents, workers, and tourists who may arrive by car or are staying in one of the local hotels, Hollywood and Highland is also home to a busy Red Line Metro rail station and a handful of local bus routes.  Read more…

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Challenge Grant Winners in Boyle Heights and South L.A. Race Against the Clock to Raise Project Funds, Build Networks

Shouldn't all intersections be magically musical? A re-imagined Florence and Crenshaw by the Street Beats team. Rendering: Studio MMD

Shouldn’t all intersections be magically musical? A re-imagined Florence and Crenshaw by the Street Beats team. Rendering: Studio MMD

Twenty-three days is not a lot of time to get community buy-in on a complete streets pop-up event/project and raise $10,000 in support of it. Especially in lower-income communities like Boyle Heights and parts of South L.A., where the stakeholders who would ideally be buying into the projects tend to be less familiar with concepts like “tactical urbanism,” are generally of lesser means, and/or are often unreachable via a social media campaign (or wholly unable to make online payments to it).

But the three sets of groups that won Great Streets Challenge Grants in those neighborhoods are determined to forge ahead.

Ride On! bike co-op founder Adé Neff acknowledged the timeline and lack of funds to do more comprehensive outreach was tough, but said he was excited to use the grant program as an opportunity to build connections along Crenshaw and between community advocates in South L.A.

Usually grants for community projects go to people outside the community, he said, because people are out of the loop with regard to funding opportunities or lack the capacity and structure to go after them. That disconnection often means that projects that do take place in the community generally fail to engage residents in more than a rubber-stamp sort of way. Meaning, any benefits that accrue to the community tend to be superficial and temporary, at best.

For someone like himself, freshly out of Antioch’s Urban Sustainability M.A. program and looking to be a driver of change in South L.A., that is a frustrating landscape to be part of.

“We have the talent pool” to do the kinds of innovative grassroots advocacy in South L.A. that could strengthen the community from within, he said. What remained was “to create the capacity to do it.”

To that end, he has joined up with architect Michael MacDonald of Studio MMD, TRUST South L.A., and Community Health Councils to put together a project that they hope will build some of those bridges between advocates while breaking down some of the barriers between folks in the Hyde Park area. All while making the busy intersection at Florence and Crenshaw safe and fun for a day.

Google map screen shot of Florence and Crenshaw.

Google map screen shot of Florence and Crenshaw.

Their project, Street Beats, intends to set up the tools to let passersby make music on each of the four corners of the intersection. Read more…

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At-Grade Crossings along Metro Blue Line Will See $30 Mil in Pedestrian Safety Improvements

The Blue Line slices its way through South L.A. toward Long Beach. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Tracks for the Metro Blue Line (at left) slice their way through South L.A. toward Long Beach. For much of that trajectory, the Blue Line shares a ROW with Union Pacific Railroad. The fact that pedestrians must cross four sets of tracks at many intersections makes the crossings more dangerous. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“In the interest of time,” Greg Kildare, Executive Director of Metro’s Enterprise Risk, Safety, and Asset Management team, began his address to the Board on July 23, “I will just say that staff believes that the [Metro Blue Line] pedestrian gating project is an extremely important safety improvement to our oldest rail line and consistent with [Metro CEO] Mr. Washington’s vision of reinvestment in our aging infrastructure, the state of good repair, and a safety-first orientation. That concludes my presentation.”

Agreeing that the upgrades were “long overdue,” the Board approved the installation of $30,175,000 worth of Pedestrian Active Grade Crossing Improvements at the 27 intersections the Blue Line shares a right-of-way (ROW) with Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) without hesitation or discussion.

The improvements are indeed long overdue.

Between 2002 and 2012, 13 of the 18 non-suicide* fatalities along the Blue Line happened between Vernon Ave. and Imperial Hwy. in South Los Angeles. [*Suicide is a significant issue along the Blue Line — at least 30 of the nearly 80 pedestrian fatalities along the line over the last two decades were confirmed suicides.]

The wide openness of the at-grade crossings through that stretch, inadequate pedestrian infrastructure, and lack of barriers at a number of the intersections — particularly on the UPRR side — create dangerous conditions for pedestrians. None of which is helped by the fact that the tracks run adjacent to several major parks and through the middle of a housing development, meaning that families and kids might make the long trek across the tracks several times a day.

Youth leaving the park cross the sets of tracks at 55th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Youth leaving the park cross the sets of tracks at 48th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Because the freight trains that use the UPRR tracks run infrequently and move so slowly — often inching forward, backing up, stopping, and inching forward again — a train can appear to be more of a nuisance than a hazard.

Multiple trains on the tracks can throw off a pedestrian’s calculations of which side a train is coming from, how fast it is moving, or how quickly the pedestrian feels they can get across the tracks. Or, as in the case of middle-schooler Gilberto Reynaga, killed in 1999 when he clambered over a freight train stopped at the intersection only to be hit by a passing Blue Line train at 55th and Long Beach Ave., there is a potential for people to be confused by the train the signals apply to and believe they are safe when they are not.

A family with small children moves across the tracks at 55th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A family with small children first zigs to the right to access the curb cut, get around the signals, and cross the tracks at 55th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Even when people obey the signals, their journey from narrow pedestrian island to narrow pedestrian island can be lengthened by having to zig-zag their way across the tracks (above and below). Read more…

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East Side Riders’ Dreams of a Bike Co-op Finally Materializing in Watts

John Jones III, center, stands with supporters of the East Side Riders' new co-op space in Watts. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

John Jones III, center, stands with supporters of the East Side Riders’ new co-op space in Watts. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

It may have been a hot and sticky Sunday afternoon, but it didn’t keep the East Side Riders from firing up the grill and cooking for the community in front of their new bike co-op on Central Ave. in Watts.

Feeding the community is something they have done since launching the club several years ago. In those days, they would make sandwiches and hand them out to folks in need as they rode. As the club grew, they expanded their community service efforts to include promoting health and safe streets, encouraging black and brown unity, raising awareness around the need for justice in cases of hit-and-runs, building and fixing bikes for free for kids in the community, sponsoring families at Christmas, and, along with Los Ryderz Bike Club, serving as rolling ambassadors of positivity and change for Watts and the larger South L.A. community.

So far, they have managed to do all this out of their own pockets and without having a permanent home. In the early days, the club was run out of members’ garages. Then, the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) gave them space to store their bikes, meet up, and launch their rides. But they still wanted something of their own — a place they could adapt to meet community needs.

They finally settled on a new site at 113th and Central, a few blocks down the street from the WLCAC. It’s also across the street from Nickerson Gardens, the largest public housing development west of the Mississippi. While that might be intimidating for some, the East Side Riders think they’re right where they need to be. Read more…

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Man is Shot and Killed by the Officers He Called to Help Search for Stolen Bike. Is it a Livable Streets Issue?

Three teens are detained and frisked for weapons on Ave. 50 and York Blvd. in Highland Park. They were stopped while waiting for friends.  Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Three teens are detained and frisked for weapons on Ave. 50 and York Blvd. in Highland Park. They were stopped while waiting for friends. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Several months ago, I asked that a link to a story on the beating of Clinton Alford by LAPD officers be included in our daily headlines.

The 22-year-old African-American man had been riding his bike along Avalon Blvd. near 55th St. in South L.A. one night when a car pulled up alongside him and someone inside shouted at him to stop. Because the man didn’t identify himself as a police officer, Alford told the L.A. Times, when the men came after him and grabbed the back of his bike, he took off running.

Once he realized they were cops, he lay down voluntarily and allowed them to restrain him.

That’s when another car pulled up, a heavyset officer ran over, and the assault on the restrained young man began in earnest.

“I was just praying that they wouldn’t kill me,” he said of the blows that repeatedly rained down on his head and slight frame. “I just closed my eyes and tried to hold on.”

A reader objected to the inclusion of the link in the headlines, arguing that it was racism that had prompted the attack, not the fact that the young man was bicycling, and that I shouldn’t try to push an agenda on our readers.

I was disappointed by the comment — it is well-known that law enforcement has long associated bikes with criminality, substance abuse, and gangs in lower-income communities of color. In Alford’s case, they assumed he was leaving a crime scene, despite the fact that he did not fit the description of the robbery suspect they were searching for.

But I wasn’t surprised by the comment, either.

The idea that someone’s race or status can be separated from their ability to move through the public space is a sentiment I come up against consistently in a variety of forums within the livable streets advocacy community. It manifests both in the non-inclusion of such issues in policy (like Vision Zero) and in the categorization of the hostility of the public space to people of color as separate from issues of livability. It doesn’t mean advocates don’t care about the problem. But it does mean they may not know where it fits in to livability or how.

Even at Streetsblog NYC, editor Ben Fried, in response to the Eric Garner ruling, wrote of

…grappling with how and whether the site should cover these incidents of police violence. Do the killings fall within the Streetsblog beat? My first inclination was to say they do not. I don’t believe there is something intrinsic to the streets of Staten Island or Ferguson to explain the deadly force that Pantaleo and Darren Wilson applied against unarmed black men. Wilson did initially stop Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson for jaywalking, but another pretense could have been concocted — none of the other high-profile police killings in recent months began with a jaywalking stop.

Much like the commenter, he essentially points to racism as the problem.

Which, of course, it is.

But racism has never been a passive noun. It colors the assumptions we make about those around us  — who they are and what their intentions might be. And when those assumptions manifest in the behavior of those tasked with the authority of defining “security” and monitoring the public space, we have a livable streets issue on our hands.

Advocates need to accept that part of keeping streets “safe” and “livable” for everyone else has involved curbing the “threats” to their security. And that while cars, bad design, and a blatant disregard for the rights of those on foot or on bikes are certainly a massive component of that, those “threats” have also been construed as people of color attempting to engage in the very thing that livability advocates seek to encourage — unfettered movement through the public space. Read more…

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Open-Air Bike Tune-Up Session Brings Community Together in Leimert Park

The founders of the Ride On! bike co-op and members of Black Kids on Bike gather in Leimert Park to host an open-air tune-up session. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The founders of the Ride On! bike co-op and members of Black Kids on Bike gather in Leimert Park to host an open-air tune-up session. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“I know you!” I laughed, pointing at soon-to-be 9th grader Cortez Wright. “You were the reason the [King Day] parade got stopped!”

Back in January, the young man and three of his friends — all experienced cyclists — had taken the opportunity to join the Black Kids on Bikes‘ (BKoB) parade “float.” It was a pretty informal affair, essentially consisting of the group riding in slow circles along the parade route, occasionally doing tricks, and letting community members try out their bikes, if they were so inclined. The larger goal was to put a young and dynamic face on cycling in the South L.A. community, both to change negative stereotypes around cycling and to attract new people to the movement.

And it was all going very well until an overzealous police officer used the helmetless Wright and his friends as an excuse to stop and harass the group, asking if they were supposed to be there. Minutes later, that same officer stepped in front of the Real Rydaz, claiming he had to stop the bikes because of the kind of “chaos” that kids like Wright and his friends were causing.

“I still don’t have a helmet…” Wright nodded.

But he had stayed connected to the Black Kids on Bikes — a group he looked up to — and jumped at the chance to hang out with them when he saw the notice about the free tune-up session in Leimert Park hosted by Ride On! posted on the group’s Facebook page.

It was easy to see why. When I arrived a little after noon yesterday, the plaza was bustling.

Erik Charlot works on a bike while chatting with some of the lovely ladies of Major Motion. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Erik Charlot (left) works on a bike while chatting with some of the lovely ladies of Major Motion. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Music blared from some speakers set up at the corner by some of the weekend vendors and the DIY co-op was in full swing. Members and their supporters had brought their portable bike stands, tools, and cleaning supplies from home and set up under the shade of the plaza’s enormous fig tree.

Michael Glasco, Michael MacDonald, dog Tobey, and Malik Mack make sure a tiny bike is in working order. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Michael Glasco, Michael MacDonald, dog Tobey, and Malik Mack make sure a tiny bike is in working order. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

As the group grew in size, so did the sense that a community was being built. Read more…

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Today in Two Steps Backwards: USC Discontinues Rideshare Subsidy Program for 3000+ Employees; Offers Parking Passes as Consolation

Rendering of the $650 million USC Village, sited at Jefferson and Hoover and touted as "the most expansive development project in the history of South Los Angeles." Source: USC

Rendering of the $650 million USC Village, sited at Jefferson and Hoover and touted as “the most expansive development project in the history of South Los Angeles.” Source: USC

The letter sent to the more than three thousand faculty and staff that participated in USC’s Rideshare Subsidy Program this past June 16th started off happily enough.

The USC Rideshare program is growing and continuing to evolve!  In 2015, we recorded our highest-ever Air Quality Management District (AQMD) survey result – an AVR (average vehicle ridership) of 1.92. This is a phenomenal result – nearly 2 people on average in every car that comes to our campuses – and represents USC’s seventh consecutive year-over-year improvement in this important metric.

Not bad, right? Carpooling is happening. It’s improving every year. And, on top of that, more than three thousand of the faculty and staff (out of a total of ~17,000) are choosing some form of transit or rideshare to get to campus. Despite the Reason Foundation’s dire predictions about the Expo Line, people are taking advantage of the three USC stops. Things are looking up. Good on you, USC!

Metro gave USC three -- count 'em, three! -- stops.

Metro gave USC three — count ‘em, three! — stops. Jefferson/USC, Expo Park/USC, and Expo/Vermont.

So, the logical thing is to reward that and encourage more rideshare, right? Because building and maintaining parking lots is expensive. The university already owns and/or manages ~16,000 spaces and is currently in the process of building some surface lots and two more structures — one at the main campus and one at Health Sciences in Boyle Heights — containing a total of 2,000 spaces. Using the median construction cost of a single above-ground parking space in Los Angeles, calculated at $19,355, it looks like those 2,000 spaces alone will cost approximately $38.7 million to build. And that is without factoring in the opportunity cost of constructing more facilities for students on what is rather valuable real estate.

All of which makes the next part of the letter that much more confusing. Read more…

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Great Streets, Tactical Urbanism, and the Challenge of Flipping the Traditional Planning Process on its Head

A guitar sculpture at Vernon and Central Avenues nods to Central's important place in history, both in music and in race relations. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A guitar sculpture at Vernon and Central Avenues nods to Central’s important place in history, both in music and in race relations. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

When, in mid-May, the Mayor’s Office put out a call for proposals offering up to $20,000 in Great Streets Challenge Grants for applicants seeking to foster community via imaginative uses of public space, I’ll admit my heart sank.

Not because I have anything against imaginative uses of public space or money for community improvements.

But, with the due date for those proposals set for the end of last month (and winners to be announced next week), I did wonder if the Great Streets program was getting a wee bit ahead of itself.

At least in some parts of town.

Scroll through the Great Streets challenge grant application manual or listen to the recorded webinar on the application process, and you’ll see that the goals of “creat[ing] a program that empowers communities to propose innovative and creative projects for their own streets,” “finding a way to connect community leaders with funding and support for projects…,” and piloting “a participatory planning process that will offer new opportunities [between stakeholders and innovators] for collaboration early on in a project development process” are all front and center.

In essence, via Great Streets and the grant program, the city is testing the waters on institutionalizing tactical urbanism.

Inspired by unsanctioned, bottom-up, do-it-yourself interventions used by some communities to reclaim public space, tactical urbanism has been embraced by planners as a way to “flip the traditional planning process on its head” and engage communities by helping them visualize how interventions could reshape urban spaces. Plazas, parklets, and other low-risk temporary projects, the argument goes, offer residents the opportunity to experience their communities in new ways. They also offer civic leaders the tools with which to approach “neighborhood building and activation using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions and policies” that are potentially more inclusive, less intimidating, and better at facilitating discussions around the future of a neighborhood than more formal open houses and forums. Should residents’ experiences with a project prove positive, many feel, it can fuel momentum for more permanent efforts to transform the space that build on those interventions. Should the projects fail, they can be ripped out without much consequence and planners can return to the drawing board with lessons learned already in hand.

In this vein, it was reiterated several times in the challenge grants webinar, the funding is intended to offer communities the opportunity to test out some of those projects on the designated Great Streets, assess their viability, gather data on community buy-in, and make it easier for the city go after funding to make those projects (and/or their outgrowths) permanent down the line.

Even L.A. Department of Transportation head Seleta Reynolds recently touted the grant program, writing for Crosscut that it “cements the city’s faith in the community to drive its destiny” and can “leverage untapped resources in communities: the expertise of those who live, work, and play in them.”

Except that Great Streets has yet to meaningfully engage many of the very communities it has sited for transformation about the grant program or any plans for the future of their streets.

***

Read more…

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Leimert Park People St Plaza Opens; Stakeholders Debate Building a Cultural Center

Leimert Park Village's People St Plaza officially opened for business this past weekend. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Leimert Park Village’s People St Plaza officially opened for business this past weekend. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Don’t tell anybody I’m using these,” Councilmember Herb Wesson said of the blue art scissors he wielded as the moment came to cut the ribbon on Leimert Park Village’s People St Plaza project this past Saturday.

The enormous pair of wooden scissors held by Institute for Maximum Human Potential President/CEO Delores Brown — the fiscal sponsor of the plaza project — were only ceremonial.

The cutting of the ribbon on the People St Plaza. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The cutting of the ribbon on the People St Plaza. Councilmember Wesson is flanked by (l-r) Johnnie Raines, Empowerment Congress West (ECWA) member-at-large, ECWA Chair Danielle Lafayette, Institute for Maximum Human Potential President/CEO Delores Brown, Leimert Park Art Walk co-founder Ben Caldwell, LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds, Director of Special Projects for the Dept. of Cultural Affairs James Burks, Urban Design Center founder Sherri Franklin, Manager/Program Director of Great Streets, Nat Gale, and Metro Boardmember Jackie Dupont-Walker. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The ribbon-cutting marked the end of the first stage in a long process for Leimert Park Village stakeholders.

A year and a half prior, at the first community-wide design charette, they had talked about the possibility of converting part of 43rd Pl. into a plaza space.

With the Leimert Park Metro station due to be finished in the next few years, they had felt the time for deciding what face they wanted to present to the world was now.

Situated directly in front of the beautiful Vision Theater, the KAOS Network, and part of Mark Bradford’s Art + Practice campus, the site looked to be the perfect anchor for the rebranding of the community as a hub for black creatives and the celebration of the African diaspora. Read more…

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Saturday! Leimert Park Celebrates 2nd Annual 20|20 Vision Charette with People St Plaza Launch

Adinkra symbols for Unity and Human Relations (Nkonsonkonson -- "chain link" -- at bottom right) and "Except for God" (Gye Nyame), intended as a nod to the spirituality of the Ghanaian people (the symbol is prevalent there) have already been painted on a few dots in the Plaza. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Adinkra symbols for Unity and Human Relations (Nkonsonkonson — “chain link” — at bottom right) and “Except for God” (Gye Nyame), intended as a nod to the spirituality of the Ghanaian people (the symbol is prevalent there) have already been painted on a few dots in the Plaza. The Plaza officially opens this Saturday. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

It is noon on a Monday.

The weekly Leimert Park Village (LPV) stakeholders meeting has just finished, and Sherri Franklin, founder of the Urban Design Center, and Romerol Malveaux, former Field Director for the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, are leading a small group of people on a walk around the village streets.

Map in hand, Franklin is taking note of existing issues with the sidewalks, trees (or lack of), pedestrian lighting, planters, and street furniture. The notes will be used to help determine how the Prop 1C dollars Leimert Park received should be deployed to improve the streetscape.

It’s not an altogether uncommon scene.

Since the launch of the Leimert Park Village Stakeholders 20|20 Vision Initiative in January 2014, it seems there is always work to be done.

The 20|20 Vision Initiative was born out of the LPV stakeholders’ desire to harness the change the Leimert Park station will bring to the area when the Crenshaw/LAX rail line is completed in 2020. The nearly 200 stakeholders in attendance focused on developing an overarching vision for the area and what they would need to do to make that vision a reality. Participants debated how to make Leimert Park a destination, deepen relationships with sister cities or communities, attract investors looking to build partnerships with local artists and cultural caretakers, support black creatives and foster development from within the community, and the possibility of turning the space in front of the Vision Theater into a car-free plaza.

Since that initial charette, LPV stakeholders have been meeting every Monday morning to hone those plans and move forward on their implementation.

A year and a half later, their People St Plaza project is set to open in a ceremony this Saturday, June 27, at 2 p.m.

But instead of the Plaza symbolizing the end of the journey and cause to take a breath, it seems more like a beginning. Or maybe a benchmark. But definitely not an end. To wit, the ceremony will be taking place during a break for those attending tomorrow’s Second Annual LPV 20|20 Vision Initiative Charette, “Harnessing Our Cultural Economy.” Read more…