Improvements Along First Street in Boyle Heights Begin to Take Shape
Don’t you want to take a picture of me and put it on the Internet? a man wearing two casts on his arms and a “Fall Risk” wrist band asked in Spanish.
What happened to your arms? I asked.
I was attacked by witches.
Of course you were. One must be careful out here.
So, are you going to take my picture?
I took one and sent him on his way.
Today, the mission was photographing some of the newly decorated light boxes along 1st Street, not the local characters.
The utility box project — the decorating of 9 such boxes by local artists — is part of the $12 million Eastside Access Project intended to enhance pedestrian and bicycle access along the Gold Line route through Boyle Heights. As discussed here previously, while investment in the long-overlooked area is welcome, the Eastside Access Project is not without controversy.
Questions abound about whom the investments are for, the privileging of train over bus transit, the intense Sheriff presence on trains (especially after schools let out), and the focus on beautifying the newly designated arts district rather than addressing some of residents’ long-standing concerns about access to resources. That said, the utility boxes (most of which are completed) are quite lovely and do make the stretch of 1st between the 101 freeway and Soto more enjoyable.
In the press release about the improvements, Councilmember Huizar declared, “Public Art is vitality [sic] important to the life of any great City,” and that he hoped that the new mural ordinance and a growing appreciation of street art would “spur a Citywide movement to…give our talented local artists an opportunity to show the world the amazing artistry that we have here in the City of Los Angeles.”
I hope that it means that the city will look beyond the boundaries of the “arts district” and invest in projects that both tap into the creativity of the local community and enhance their access to arts programming. Or, at least restore to glory earlier treasures, like Ernesto de la Loza’s “Bridges to East L.A.” (below).
I hope, too, that it means that the city will look beyond one-time beautification projects and think about the kinds of longer-term investments in the community that will result in a more improved pedestrian environment throughout the area (umm…dealing with Exide and their lead and arsenic emissions, anyone?). Even around the newly-painted light boxes, you are likely to find garbage, tagging, and (occasionally) some form of human waste.
While artists Raul Gonzalez, Fabian Debora, Nuke, Lilia Ramirez (LiliFlor), Vyal One, Ricardo Estrada, Blosm, Sonji Mariposa, and Carlos Callejo are doing their part to improve the visible environment, making Boyle Heights stronger as a community means investing in the entire area, not just the stretch non-locals are likely to visit.