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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 Sulaiman’s and all of Streetsblog’s coverage of issues in South L.A.

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South L.A. Voices Speak on Link Between the Arts, Recreation, Food, and Social Justice

George Villanueva moderates the Food, Recreation, and the Arts as Social Justice and Civic Engagement Visions and Voices panel at USC featuring Ben Caldwell, Karen Mack, Neelam Sharma, and J.P. Partida. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

George Villanueva moderates the Food, Recreation, and the Arts as Social Justice and Civic Engagement Visions and Voices panel at USC featuring Ben Caldwell, Karen Mack, Neelam Sharma, and J.P. Partida. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Fun in the sun!” Watts resident William Fabian wrote under the prompt “My South L.A. is…” created by organizers of the Visions and Voices panel, “Food, Recreation, and the Arts as Social Justice and Civic Engagement,” at USC last night. The panel was the second in a three-part effort by USC to engage some of the advocates doing work in the South L.A. area while taking stock of its role in the civic and community life of the area as it undergoes expansion.

“Fun in the sun” is generally not what first comes to mind for most people when they think about South L.A., much less Watts. But it helps illustrate why it is so important to hear directly from residents in marginalized communities, particularly communities that have been much maligned in the media.

Urban planners and others seeking to diagnose the problems facing communities like South L.A. sometimes seem to assume that the problem is, in part, one based in a lack of vision of what a functioning community or public space should be. And that “teaching people that their streets can be sites of recreation” is part of the remedy.

Panelists Ben Caldwell (artist and founder of the KAOS Network in Leimert Park), Karen Mack (of city arts organization L.A. Commons), Neelam Sharma (of food justice-oriented Community Services Unlimited, based near USC), and Javier “J.P.” Partida (founder of Los Ryderz Bike Club in Watts), put those notions to rest by making it clear that reclaiming the public space has always been central to their efforts to nurture and celebrate culture, identity, community, health, artistry, and innovation. And that they and others in the community have been doing that work for quite some time.

For Karen Mack, who founded L.A. Commons in 2002, that work involves bringing people together to communicate their experiences via the arts in the public space.

There are many narratives about L.A., she said, but they have tended not to be inclusive. Instead, because the areas that are richest in culture are often the most resource-poor, those voices are generally not heard. By actively engaging those voices and empowering them to speak to each other — as in the case of a mural project where Latino students interviewed African-American business owners about the Crenshaw community both now shared — communities can grow stronger from within. And because the project outputs often include traveling murals, story-telling summits, and/or community walking tours, L.A. Commons offers outsiders opportunities to connect with both the home-crafted narratives and the residents that were responsible for bringing them to life.

Ben Caldwell, filmmaker, artist, ethnographer, local historian, and all-around creative, also believes the arts can be deployed to build more vibrant, healthy, and inclusive communities.

“People think we only have ‘Boyz n the Hood,’” he said, chuckling.

While those youth are indeed present in South L.A., “we see them differently, too.” They are part of the community and have something to contribute, when engaged properly. Read more…

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“I’m a Cycle-Path”: Los Ryderz’ Founder Joins other South L.A. Superheroes at Visions and Voices Panel Thursday

Founder of Los Ryderz, Javier "J.P." Partida (far left) stands in front of an Earth Day mural with some of the youth from the club after a ride focused on healthy food options. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Founder of Los Ryderz, Javier “J.P.” Partida (far left) stands in front of an Earth Day mural with some of the youth from the club after a ride focused on healthy food options hosted by Community Services Unlimited. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“If it weren’t for J.P. …”

Ask any of the youth from the Los Ryderz Bike Club how they feel about the club and that is usually one of the first things to come out of their mouths.

“…Who knows what I’d be doin’.”

“…I don’t know where I’d be.”

“…He’s like a second father – the father I never had. I call him ‘Dad.’”

They’re talking about the club’s founder and president, Javier “J.P.” Partida, a long-time resident of Watts whose cool and occasionally gruff exterior masks an enormous and very generous heart.

Partida will be joining other South L.A. superheroes Neelam Sharma (from Community Services Unlimited), Ben Caldwell (of the KAOS Network in Leimert Park), and Karen Mack (of arts organization L.A. Commons) to talk about the joys and the challenges of bringing food justice, urban agriculture, community arts, and recreation to South L.A. this Thursday night as part of the Visions and Voices series at USC. (Event information here.)

Javier "J.P." Partida speaks about the history of the Watts Towers and what they means to the community at the exploratory ride for a South L.A. CicLAvia. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

J.P. Partida speaks about the history of the Watts Towers and what they mean to the community at the exploratory ride for a South L.A. CicLAvia. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

I had first met Partida in 2012, at the CicLAvia South L.A. Exploration Ride through Watts led by the East Side Riders (above).

Seeing how the community responded to seeing 60+ cyclists riding through his neighborhood had inspired him to think about getting youth from the community on bikes, he said when he called me a few months later. Could I come down to Watts to talk with him about launching a youth-centric club?

Oh. Hell. Yes.

Watts is packed with young people who have nowhere to go.

There are no bowling alleys, movie theaters, arcades, or safe spots in the public space where kids can just hang out and have fun with their friends. And even though the majority of the youth are not involved in gangs, the intensity of gang activity in the area constricts their movement. Parents may not even allow kids to hang out in their own front yards, wait at bus stops they feel are too exposed, or walk too far in any direction on their own. The kids that can afford their own bikes are often afraid (or not allowed) to ride alone or stray too far from home for fear of getting jacked while riding, or worse.

Given his own upbringing in that environment and the informal mentoring he was already doing with the kids that came through YO! Watts, Partida felt he couldn’t get a bike club off the ground fast enough. At our first meeting, he laid out a million ideas for events, logo designs, group gatherings, and even a co-op – and he wanted it all to happen right away.

“Just get the kids out on bikes,” I remember telling him at the time. “Start with that. The rest will fall into place.”

That turned out to be very true. At first. Read more…

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Thanks Everyone! Next Event with Gehl Architects in Santa Monica!

Photo and cake: Amy Weiss

Photo and cake: Amy Weiss

Saturday night’s Streetsblog Los Angeles Birthday party saw over fifty people pack into the house of Amy, Jack and Jonathan Weiss to celebrate the 7th anniversary of our first article in Los Angeles.

There are too many people to thank for our ongoing success, at one point in the night we did a hand count of everyone who had contributed a story to Streetsblog, been featured in a Streetsblog story, had attended a Streetsblog event, had volunteered on one of our local boards, or had donated once before the party. By the time we were done, most people had raised their hand more than one time. It was truly as much a reunion as it was a party.

Of course, the evening wouldn’t have been possible without our amazing hosts. The Weiss family went above and beyond in their party preparation with birthday themed decorations and cake, catered food, home made sangria and just basically helped everyone have a great time.

Up next in our event calendar is an an urbanism + placemaking happy hour with Gehl Architects from 6 to 8 p.m. in Santa Monica on March 11. Snacks and drinks will be provided. Get more details and RSVP, here.

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Live.Ride.Share, L.A.’s First “Shared Mobility Conference” Comes on Monday

After you have spent the weekend celebrating Streetsblog Los Angeles’ 7th birthday party, you’ll probably be too exhausted to go to work. If that is the case, consider attending Live.Ride.Share, a conference on the future of mobility in the “share economy.” The all-day conference is currently at maximum registration, but you can find the RSVP information at the end of the story.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 3.00.44 PMThe Live.Ride.Share conference will bring together local and national transportation leaders to discuss both a quickly growing economic sector and the role the sharing economy can play in the changes taking place in Los Angeles-area transportation.

The conference will feature presentations, panel discussions and workshops that include locals leaders such as Mike Bonin, Michael Woo and Seleta Reynolds and state, national and international figures such as Stuart Cohen, Ben Plowden, and David Bragdon.

For me, Plowden is a particularly exciting speaker. As Director of Surface Strategy and Planning at Transport for London, he is known as the brains behind the city’s groundbreaking “cycle superhighway” plan. He will be discuss London’s strategies for enhancing cycling infrastructure and what L.A. can learn from London’s innovative approach.

To get on the waiting list for the conference, click here.

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The Ride4Love Sets Powerful Example of Unity through Diversity in Watts

One of the younger riders surveys the scene during the Ride4Love. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

One of the younger riders surveys the scene during the Ride4Love. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Lemme guess,” I said to East Side Rider Dale Williams as he approached the Ride4Love’s ride captains with a printout of the route, “you worked all night last night.”

The big-hearted 55-year-old never fails to amaze me. He often works long nights cleaning venues, gets home in time to catch a couple of hours of sleep, and is up early with a smile on his face, ready to help shepherd bike rides, big or small, to ensure that everyone stays safe.

The tail end of the group heads into South Gate along Firestone Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The tail end of the group heads into South Gate along Firestone Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Yup,” Williams laughed, “you know it!”

He wasn’t the only one. One of Los Ryderz‘ reliable road captains, Carlos “Cheech” Garcia, had also been up most of the night at his power-washing job, and had also refused to miss the ride.

Fred Buggs, president of the East Side Riders and builder of incredible bikes, heads back toward an intersection to help shepherd rides through it. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Fred Buggs, president of the East Side Riders and builder of incredible bikes (including the tandem one he is on), heads back toward an intersection to help shepherd riders through it. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Their dedication to their clubs and their community is part of what makes riding in South L.A. such a wonderful experience. Where a lot of group rides tend to be about moving through spaces, South L.A. rides are always about connecting with them and leaving them better than they were before. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Avalon and Gage Pocket Park is Now Open

New children's play area open at Avalon and Gage. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

New children’s play area open at Avalon and Gage. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Over the past year, I watched the Neighborhood Land Trust and Department of Parks and Recreation slowly transform a dumpy traffic island at Avalon and Gage into something families in the community could actually use and be proud of.

The transformation couldn’t come soon enough.

The island sits at a very busy intersection in a neighborhood whose environment is intensely impacted by the factories found on the east side of Avalon, along Gage, and the heavy and fast-moving traffic (especially truck traffic) the corridor sees.

The island from above. The central tree was removed after this 2012 image was made. (Google maps screen shot).

The island from above. It sits on the edge of an industrial zone (at right). (Google maps screen shot).

The section of Gage just east of Avalon. (Google map screen shot)

The section of Gage just east of Avalon. The new pocket park is at center left (A). Click to enlarge. (Google map screen shot)

The island, in its earlier iteration as a tiny and uninspiring oasis from the chaos, had never realized its full potential. Read more…

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Move L.A.’s South L.A. Forum Asks if Transit Can Deliver Shared Prosperity

Figueroa Ave., just north of 85th St.

A man takes shelter in the shade of a telephone pole at a bus stop on Figueroa Ave., just north of 85th St. in South L.A., on a hot summer day. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Riding my bike the 15 miles between my apartment and a Move L.A. forum on the future of transit at Southwest College on a dreary Saturday morning while battling the tail end of a stubborn respiratory infection was not among the brightest ideas I had ever had, I reflected as it began to drizzle and my hacking started getting the best of me.

But I hadn’t wanted to take the bus (buses, as, technically, I would have had to have taken two). Between the walking and the waiting for lines that run less frequently early on Saturday mornings, my door-to-door journey would probably come out at about two hours — half the time it took me to ride the route.

And the scenes I passed at bus stops on my way down the length of Vermont were not exactly selling bus riding to me.

The many, many folks crowding narrow sidewalks at unprotected bus stops looked rather miserable in the areas where rain was falling. Most yanked hats down over their ears, snuggled deeper into jackets, held newspapers or other random things over their heads to fend off the drizzle, and huddled over their kids to keep them dry. There are actual bus “shelters,” but they are few and far between, generally filthy and overflowing with trash, and offer little protection from the elements.

I even found myself dodging wet, frustrated people who had stepped out into the street to make the long-distance squint up Vermont that only regular bus riders can, searching in vain for a flash of orange. Others called out to ask if I had happened to pass a bus on its way to pick them up.

The state of the bus system in L.A. is not spectacular, in other words, despite the fact that it is responsible for ferrying 3/4 of all Metro transit riders (approximately 30 million people) back and forth per month.

But discussion of the bus situation was notably absent from the discussion on the future of transportation that unfolded over nearly five hours the morning of January 8.

Aside from the remarks of Southwest College alum Leticia Conley, who complained that some students’ ability to access education could be harmed by having to rely on buses that only ran once an hour, most of the discussion focused on rail.

The dotted blue lines represent Move L.A.'s proposal for expanded rail lines throughout L.A. County.

The dotted blue lines represent Move L.A.’s proposal for expanded rail lines throughout L.A. County.

In some ways, the oversight was by design. Besides gathering together leaders from the African-American community to talk about opportunities to make investments in transit translate into investments in the development of South L.A., the larger goal of the forum was to build support for putting a proposal for “Measure R2″ on the 2016 ballot. Read more…

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Are You Supposed to be Here?: Officer Harasses Black Cyclists during MLK Day Parade

Members of the Black Kids on Bikes and their supporters gather for a photo during the MLK Day Parade along King Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Members of the Black Kids on Bikes and their supporters gather for a photo during the MLK Day Parade along King Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Are you supposed to be in the parade?”

Arms outstretched to halt the glacially-paced forward movement of the group, the LAPD officer stepped in front of long-time South L.A. Real Ryda and one of the area’s best-known cycling elders, William Holloway.

Stunned, we all looked at each other.

Is this man serious?

The Real Rydaz and some of the other low-rider clubs they teamed up with for South L.A.’s King Day parade yesterday specialize in parades. The great energy they bring by performing tricks with their intricately detailed bikes makes them crowd favorites around the city, but especially along King Blvd., where they have a long history with the community. It’s not unusual to hear people chant “Real Rydaz!” from the sidelines as they see the bikes approaching. Or to hear the entire crowd break into song, as they did yesterday, when Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday!” (written to celebrate Dr. King) blared from one of the Rydaz’ speakers.

“Sir, they ride in the parade every year,” I interjected. “Everybody knows them.”

Henry, Helen Myers, a Lady Rider, Shuntain Thomas, and others wait patiently for the parade to move forward. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Henry III, Helen Myers, a Lady Rider, Shuntain Thomas, and others wait patiently for the parade to move forward. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Holloway then began to speak up, as did some of the others, asking what the problem was and declaring that they had been participants in the parade for years.

Now a little less sure of himself, the officer kept looking back and forth between me (the non-African-American) and the Rydaz, as if he wasn’t sure he could take their word for it and I might be the one to provide the real story of what was going on. Read more…

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Filed Under: Ugly Things You Find on the Interwebs

The cover photo from the offending FB page.

The cover photo of a purported bike “thief” from the offending FB page. In reality, it is a photo of Bay Area cyclist and creative DAGHE taken by Pendarvis H., Associate Producer at @ThisIsFusion.

“Wow… is all I can say,” wrote Veronica Davis, avid cyclist and member of Black Women Bike: D.C. under a photo on a facebook page entitled, “Black People with Bikes that Aren’t Theirs,” that insinuated she was riding a stolen bike.

“The ignorance of this page is astounding,” she continued. “Especially since this is a photo of me on a bike I didn’t steal.”

It’s true, the ignorance of the page was astounding (even featuring stock photos of black children on bikes and labeling them as thieves) as was its growing number of “likes” (3280 and counting since I first saw the page this morning).

I was tempted to brush it off as one of the many, many, many outrageously stupid, racist, ignorant things you can find on the interwebs with great ease. But it was tapping into something that seems to be up for national debate right now — the right of people of color to move through the public space free of suspicion — and using the photos of known African-American cyclists and livable streets advocates to make a case against their right to do so.

And while the owner of the page claimed it was harmless, stating, “This page started off as shits n gigs [sic] but for some reason people cant [sic] accept that. Im [sic] not purposely trying to be racist. All im [sic] trying to do is make people laugh,” it really isn’t.

The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, John Crawford (killed in Walmart while carrying a toy gun sold by the store), 12-year-old Tamir Rice (killed for brandishing a toy gun and not given first aid because officers were busy tackling and handcuffing his 14-year-old sister when she tried to come to his aid), Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino, 34 (gunned down in Gardena by the very police he and his brother had called for help while looking for their stolen bike), and many others all offer powerful illustrations of how easily biases about the intentions of people of color can upend their fates.

And while these issues have finally become big news of late, it is not news to folks of color that they are often viewed with suspicion in the public space, particularly by law enforcement. Walking-while-black (or brown) offers its own unique set of challenges. But so does riding bikes. Read more…

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CicLAvia Open Thread: It Was a Great Day for South L.A.

Members of the L.A. Real Rydaz and World Riders post up on MLK Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Members of the L.A. Real Rydaz and World Riders post up on MLK Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“I am such a terrible reporter,” I texted my boss as I left Leimert Park around 4 p.m. yesterday. “All I did was talk to everyone I’ve ever met in the last three years…”

It was true. Instead of just taking in the event or snapping photos of happy participants, I went from pit stop to pit stop, seeking out the folks who were working to make sure L.A.’s re-introduction to South L.A. was a fantastically positive one.

If they weren’t busy behind the scenes, they were riding with their group, supporting the community organizations, acting as unofficial ambassadors for the area, and helping local youth access the event, as the East Side Riders Bike Club did by “picking up” students from Fremont High School on their feeder ride up from Watts.

South L.A. youth that rode with the East Side Riders and Los Ryderz to CicLAvia. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

South L.A. youth that rode to CicLAvia with the East Side Riders and Los Ryderz take a break at the Free Lots! site and chat with Sondrina Bullitt of CHC. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

And true to South L.A. advocacy fashion, just about every conversation I had assessed the day’s events, the turnout, and the work that was left to be done.

At the Free Lots! site (hosted by Community Health Councils, TRUST South L.A., Esperanza Community Housing, the Neighborhood Land Trust, Kounkuey Design Initiative, and the Leadership for Urban Renewal Network (LURN)), I talked with LURN Senior Associate Luis Gutierrez about both their efforts to see vacant lots transformed into community assets and the possibility of a cross-cultural dialogue on strengthening communities like South L.A. and Boyle Heights from within (see photos by LURN’s Rudy Espinoza, here)

Over at the Jazz Park Hub, I spoke with Reginald Johnson of the Coalition for Responsible Community Development about CRCD‘s effort to put together a Business Improvement District along Central Ave. and about the challenge of communicating South L.A.’s needs and aspirations to agencies that have little connection to the area or are reluctant to shed old stereotypes, either about its people or the community as a whole. Read more…