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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…


Eyes on the Street: Avalon/Gage Pocket Park Continues to Take Shape

The pocket park at Avalon and Gage takes shape. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The pocket park at Avalon and Gage takes shape. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

As much as I genuinely adore South L.A., I have to admit it isn’t always the sparkliest of places.

Years of neglect by the city, a lack of investment in infrastructure, the seemingly haphazard zoning (or lack of enforcement of codes) that allows for toxic enterprises to set up shop in residential areas, and rampant dumping mean that even the most beautiful of older buildings and streets can seem somewhat drab and run down.

So, it was fun to see such a bright pop of color (above) appear at a traffic island at Avalon and Gage recently.

The space is soon to be a pocket park, courtesy of parks-oriented non-profit the Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT). It will feature playground equipment, fitness equipment, seating and tables, pedestrian lighting, and new trees and plants.

They broke ground on the park in May of this year and planned to complete construction this year, although it appears as though it may not be finished before early 2015.

The plans for the new parklet at Avalon and Gage. Courtesy of the Neighborhood Land Trust.

The plans for the new parklet at Avalon and Gage. Courtesy of the Neighborhood Land Trust.

Read more…

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South L.A. Power Fest Illustrates Successful Placemaking Requires Deep Community Roots

"We are only as strong as our weakest link." Alfonso Aguilar tells the youth at Community Coalition. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

“We are only as strong as our weakest link.” Alfonso Aguilar tells the youth at Community Coalition. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

“We are only as strong as our weakest link,” youth leader Alfonso Aguilar tells the youth participating in the South Central Youth Empowered through Action (SCYEA) program at Community Coalition (CoCo).

“So, if you’re feeling weak, step into the center of the circle.”

Much to my surprise, a dozen students ranging from 14 to 18 years old move into a huddle in the middle and immediately link arms. Those left on the outside circle cheer them on and pledge their support before the circle collapses in a massive group hug.

It was an uplifting way to end what had been a long day for them — it was now well after 7 p.m. and the youth had come to CoCo directly after school so they could get a snack, do their homework, and pound the pavement in the surrounding neighborhoods to promote this weekend’s South L.A. Power Fest at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.

I was there because I had wanted to do the door-knocking outreach with the SCYEA youth.

Much like when Erick Huerta and I assisted CicLAvia with door-knocking in Boyle Heights, I was looking to hear directly from community members about how they saw their neighborhood and their relationship with the public space. I spend enough time in South L.A. to feel like I know the needs and concerns pretty well, but its important to continue to check in and listen, especially as the area grows and changes.

It seems even more important to listen to the youth from the area — like those CoCo had tasked with doing the outreach as part of their leadership training — who often feel constraints on their mobility in the public space most acutely.

So, I was thrilled when CoCo gave me the OK to tag along with their door-knockers last week.

Doing outreach with Community Coalition youth Raymond and Antoine. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Doing outreach with Community Coalition youth Raymond Davis and Antoine Johnson. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Besides being really cool youth, it was clear that they knew the issues well, cared about engaging neighbors, and were sincere in wanting residents to come out to the event.

As we canvassed an area near Manual Arts High School on 41st St., Raymond Davis (above, left) would announce he was a sophomore there, that he knew the concerns of the community, and that he wanted a place for kids to be able to play where parents wouldn’t have to be fearful for their safety.

The festival would have something for everyone, he would continue, including a job and other resources tent, information on healthcare enrollment, cooking demonstrations, food trucks, music, zumba, and an artivist (artists + activism) tent where local artists will share their work and contributions to social justice.

“I don’t like that park,” one man said, scowling as he turned the event flyer over in his fingers. Read more…

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A Pocket Park Begins to Take Shape in South L.A.

A parklet under construction. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

A pocket park under construction. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

My, my, what have we here?

I pulled up at Avalon and Gage to survey the change happening at what I had always considered a terribly depressing island with great potential.

In case you’re not sure what that category of traffic island looks like, here’s the “before” shot:

The previous configuration of the island at Avalon and Gage. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The previous configuration of the island at Avalon and Gage. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The intersection is one that marks the boundary between the industrial and residential sections of Gage.

It’s a busy transit stop, with bus stops on both Avalon and Gage. And there had clearly been an attempt made to create pleasant environment by putting in nice seating areas featuring tables with checkerboard tops.

But the lack of shade, empty tree boxes, and removal of the tree at the center of the island (made worse by the fact that the stump was left behind, as if the tree had been decapitated), meant that people tended to eschew the seating areas in order to take refuge from the sun alongside telephone poles.

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

The island from above. Gage runs east-west. The central tree, visible here, was removed some time after this 2012 image was made. (Google maps screen shot).

Thankfully, that’s all about to change. Read more…


Judge Denies Demolition Injunction for Riverside-Figueroa Bridge

Landbridge supporters rallied on the Riverside Figueroa Bridge this morning, while the fate of the bridge was being decided in court. photo courtesy Kathleen Smith

Landbridge supporters rallied on the Riverside Figueroa Bridge this morning, while the fate of the bridge was being decided in court. photo courtesy Kathleen Smith

At a hearing this morning, Judge James Chalfant denied an appeal that would have stopped the demolition of the city of Los Angeles’ historic Riverside-Figueroa Bridge. Plaintiffs Enrich L.A. and RAC Design Build have been pushing for the city to preserve the span into and convert it into the Landbridge, an elevated park similar to New York City’s High Line.

The Riverside-Figueroa Bridge spans the Los Angeles River in North East Los Angeles. It connects the communities of Elysian Valley and Cypress Park. The existing bridge was built in the 1920s, then partially re-built in the 1950s. In 2006, the Los Angeles City Council approved a project to tear down the bridge and replace it with a widened freeway-scale version. In 2008, the city designated the bridge as a historic-cultural landmark. In 2011, the city began construction on the widened replacement bridge, which opened to car traffic last week.

Landbridge proponents’ counsel asserted that, since the bridge was named a historic landmark, the city is legally required to bring the demolition before its Cultural Heritage Commission, which it has not done. The plaintiffs also assert that the new wide bridge design has changed from what had been approved. Initially designs showed the new bridge inhabiting the same space as the existing bridge. According to the plaintiff’s legal case documents, the “current construction extended beyond approved boundaries by more than 60 feet.” This change in design, unannounced by the city of Los Angeles, has opened space for the two bridges to exist side by side.

Deputy City Attorney Mary Decker asserted that the 2006 City Council approval is all that was needed to proceed.  The city further requested that, if an injunction were approved, the court must:

order immediate posting of a bond by the Petitioners. The amount of the bond must be at a minimum, $18,000/day for each day of delay starting June 9th, 2014, which is the amount of damages the City is estimated to incur based on delays and disruptions to the existing contractor schedule.

At the beginning of the hearing, the judge appeared heavily inclined to side with the city. He asserted that there was an “insurmountable… evidence problem” with Landbridge proponents’ documentation being gathered from city documents posted on-line. He chastened Landbridge proponents that their Cultural Heritage Commission process requests were “too late” and “not the kind of thing you do at the last minute.” Landbridge proponents’ counsel responded that their clients had been working closely with the city, up until the Board of Public Works vote last week, and that asserting legal claims too soon could have soured a process that appeared to some hope of success.  Read more…


Weekend Update: Lawsuit and Rally to Save Riverside-Figueroa Landbridge

Tomorrow is a crucial decision point for the Riverside-Figueroa Bridge. LandBRIDGE proponents rally at the bridge at 8am.

Tomorrow is a crucial decision point for the Riverside-Figueroa Bridge. Landbridge proponents rally at the bridge at 8am.

Last Wednesday, proponents of preserving the historic Riverside-Figueroa Bridge lost an appeal before the L.A. City Public Works Commission. EnrichLA, RAC Design Build, and others, have pressed for converting the bridge into a “Landbridge” – an elevated park, similar to New York City’s Highline, accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.

Last Thursday, the new parallel bridge opened to traffic; car traffic that is, bicyclists and pedestrians are still awaiting the opening of their facilities. Late Friday, Landbridge leaders filed a lawsuit to prevent demolition. Landbridge proponents are seeking a legal injunction against demolition. The case is scheduled to be heard at 8:30am tomorrow morning at Department 85 or 86 in Los Angeles Superior Court, 111 N. Hill Street in Downtown Los Angeles.

Just before the court hearing tomorrow, Monday June 2nd, 2014, at 8am, there’s also a rally at the bridge itself. Event details at Facebook.

At a time when the city is announcing a billion dollar investment in this stretch of the Los Angeles River, it would be unfortunate for them not to preserve existing structures that contribute the historic character of river.



South L.A. Park Has Great Potential, but Lacks Sidewalks That Would Make it Accessible to All

No sidewalks in sight. Jackie Tatum Harvard Park. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

No sidewalks in sight along 62nd St. at Jackie Tatum Harvard Park. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

When people talk about park access, they usually are referring to whether or not people have a park near their homes.

In the case of the Jackie Tatum Harvard Recreation Center, you have a great park with some great new facilities in South L.A. — a traditionally park-poor area — but it isn’t that easy to access.

The reasons for this are many.

The park, located at 62nd and Denker and has traditionally been a hangout of the Harvard Park Brims (Bloods) sets that run in the area.

As HPB territory is surrounded on all four sides by Crip sets, it has historically been somewhat embattled. Long-time residents all have stories of how active the area and, in particular, the park used to be, both as a place for gang members to party and where daytime shootings were not out of the ordinary.

While things have gotten better of late, gang members can still limit park access; they apparently even temporarily chased out workers putting in the new skate park there just a few years ago. And, the fact that it is a known gang hangout endangers non-gang members, too. In 2012, Patrick Carruthers, a beloved nineteen-year-old park volunteer with a learning disability was shot in the back and killed in a middle-of-the-day walk-up while listening to music on a picnic bench.

Some attempts to manage the problem have been made with the (overdue) installation of cameras around the park last year that are monitored by the LAPD’s 77th Division. But, budget cuts have hurt the ability of parks in lower-income neighborhoods like this one to fill staff positions and offer classes to the community that might help keep youth engaged in healthy activities and out of trouble. And, because many in the area struggle financially, the park lacks the ability to charge fees for programs to cover some of their costs the way one in a wealthier community might be able to do.

No sidewalk here, either. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

No sidewalk here, either. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The other access issues should be more easily (and are long overdue to be) fixed.

While it may have nice tennis courts, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, an awesome water slide and aquatic center, several playing fields, beach volleyball pits, a playground for kids, and even horseshoe toss pits, if you’re disabled, pushing kids in a stroller, or just want to take a stroll around the park, you’re out of luck.

Somehow, the park has gone all this time without having sidewalks on three sides. Read more…

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Kickball to the Rescue!: How Active Programming in Parks Makes Communities Safer

Championship game of the kickball tournament held this past Sat. at Ted Watkins Park in Watts. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Championship game of the kickball tournament held this past Sat. at Ted Watkins Park in Watts. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

When I first visited Ted Watkins Park at 103rd and Central in 2001, I didn’t stay very long.

I was exploring the community with my boyfriend of the time, who happened to be white, and we caused quite a stir. A few people even jeered at us, with one asking if we had “come down from the hills” to grace Watts with our presence.

Despite it being one of the few “neutral” sites everyone could access (not located within a housing development or claimed by a gang), the 27-acre park itself didn’t seem particularly welcoming, either. The equipment and facilities were in bad shape and the place felt rather dirty. There wasn’t really much of a picnic area where we could sit down and take everything in, and my ex was pretty sure no one wanted us to do that anyways.

Fast forward a decade and a $6.8 million renovation later, and Ted Watkins Park is a totally different place.

Bright and colorful, nicely landscaped, chock-full of picnic tables, playing fields and handball courts, and peppered with fitness equipment along the west side, it is a jewel of the community.

Jimmy and his daughter take a break from the kickball game. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Jimmy and his daughter take a break from the sun and the kickball game. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

During daylight hours, you can find many people working out on the equipment and jogging or walking around the outer edge of the park (there is even a path through the tree-lined fitness area on the west side, so folks don’t have to make their way past the guys selling used cars along the park’s edge on Central). The handball courts, skate area, and children’s play area are also always bustling with activity.

With regard to programming, the Watts farmers’ market can be found there Saturday mornings (10 a.m. – 2 p.m.), there are often formal soccer games or informal practices and games happening at one or more of the playing fields, and, in summer, the Parks After Dark program lets people enjoy the park until late into the evening.

While both the renovations and programming play an important role in the park’s success, my observation is that programming plays a bigger role than you might imagine. Read more…


The Dept. of Parks and Rec Wants Your Input on What Parks Should Be

Google Screen Shot of Julian Dixon Park, pre-makeover, boulders and all.

Google screen shot of Julian Dixon Park, pre-makeover, random boulders and all.

I’ve been watching the makeover that the Julian C. Dixon/48th St. Park on Hoover and 48th has been undergoing for the past couple of months with some interest.

The small playground, cracked-up basketball court, and small (but well-used) fitness zone sat like disparate islands floating along the edges of a sea of poorly kept grass populated by large, incongruous boulders. All lovingly enclosed within a hideously rickety chain-link fence.

Aesthetically pleasing it was not.

When I called the parks department to see what the plans for the makeover were, Vicki Israel, the Assistant General Manager of the Partnership and Revenue Branch, assured me that a number of good things were in the works. New walking paths would be enhanced by new landscaping and lighting, fitness equipment would be repaired, and the basketball court would be refurbished, all by the end of November or early December.

It may not sound like much, but those will be very welcome improvements.

Some of the parks in South L.A. are not nearly as inviting as they could be. Take South Park (at 51st and Avalon), for example, which has a large and beautiful grove of thickly-trunked palm trees. The poor upkeep of the grounds in and around the trees and no real paths to guide walkers, however, make it more puzzling than attractive. The illicit activity the park often sees doesn’t help, either. All of which is unfortunate, as it is a site with an incredible amount of potential.

But attractiveness is not the only problem parks in the area suffer from.

Budget cutbacks means less maintenance and fewer staff. In areas where gangs have a heavy presence, fewer staff can mean that youth will feel even less safe visiting the facilities. In the case of Augustus Hawkins — a watershed park at Compton and Slauson enclosed on three sides — the absence of staff to make rounds through some of its more secluded areas worked in thieves’ favor.

A man and woman posing as a couple apparently canvassed the park, waited for staff to leave for the day, and then approached a man watching a movie on his laptop, pulled a weapon on him, and made off with his computer. The caretakers were very surprised to hear of such a thing — they rarely saw problems of that nature when staff were on hand to patrol the area. Read more…

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Park[ing] Day Installation in South L.A. Highlights Residents’ Desperate Need for Peaceful Green Space. And Plants.

Mike Kim of the Neighborhood Land Trust recruits John, a resident and plant lover, to participate in the park project planned for the vacant lot at 81st and Vermont. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The young man looked nervous.

Hands jammed in his pockets, unwilling to meet my gaze, he walked towards me, backed away, moved toward the potted plants sitting on the sidewalk, came back towards me, and finally mumbled something unintelligible.

“I’m sorry?” I asked. His behavior was so unusual I thought he might be having some sort of emergency or need help with something.

Still not looking me in the eye, he asked, “Are you selling plants?”

“Not really…”

I explained that the plant had been part of a display created by the Neighborhood Land Trust in celebration of Park[ing] Day L.A. They had taken over a parking space at Manchester and Vermont — directly in front of one of the area’s trash-filled and block-long vacant lots — to raise awareness about the need for parks in South L.A. and to connect with residents on their aspirations for their community.

I pointed at Project Manager Mike Kim who was talking with John, an older resident from up the street that he had just handed a raspberry plant to. John had professed a love for growing vegetables on the sly in the building that he managed and talked about how tough it was to find fresh fruit and vegetables in the area.

“You could ask him if he had any more plants he could give out..?” I said.

“Naw, naw, it’s OK,” said the young man, backing away, disappointed.

He wasn’t looking for a handout.

It had been happening all day, Monica Curiel, Lead Organizer for the Little Green Fingers program told me. She and other staff had been surprised by the number of people that had stopped by their installation in the hopes they were selling plants. They had eagerly taken the seeds staff were handing out and were excited to hear they could now plant along parkways. But what they really wanted was plants.

Gesturing at the vacant lot behind her she said, “Apparently, this should be a nursery.” Read more…