CicLAvia Open Thread: It Was a Great Day for South 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.
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.
In Leimert Park, I spoke with Ben Caldwell of the KAOS Network about his effort to work with some amazing younger artists and musicians to bring a new vibe to the Village (hello, The Crockpot!). We also chatted about the guide CicLAvia put together — seen as problematic by a number of South L.A. stakeholders who felt it didn’t offer enough historical context and portrayed the area negatively on a day they hoped would offer an opportunity to rewrite that narrative.
Continuing to move South L.A. and its neighborhoods forwards, in other words, is never too far from most advocates’ minds.
As for the turnout, overall it was lower than that of other events I have attended.
Larger press outlets hadn’t really promoted the event until the last minute and people are unfortunately either still wary of South L.A. or unconvinced there is something of value to see there. And getting the word out in South L.A. isn’t easy — as was true in Boyle Heights, door-knocking and face-to-face interactions are the best (but also the slowest and most resource-intensive) way to get people to come out for events
And some of the things advocates had hoped to be able to show off in time for the event — like the bike lane for MLK which is now months overdue and the People St. Plaza project in Leimert Park — were not quite ready to be rolled out.
But those that were there to explore the area seemed genuinely excited to be able to do so.
Newcomers finally learned how to pronounce “Leimert,” were pleasantly surprised to spot Community Services Unlimited‘s lush mini-urban farm on the corner of King Blvd. and Bill Robertson Lane, happily toured the Dunbar Hotel, enthusiastically got their African dance or drumming on, or hungrily packed themselves into Ackee Bamboo looking for some Jamaican Cuisine.
The local community turnout was quite good for a first time through the area and, for many of the advocates I spoke with yesterday, that felt like a tremendous victory.
So did finally pulling up to Leimert Park a little after 2 p.m. and seeing how packed it still was with both community members and people from every corner of the city. Leimert Park is festival central for South L.A. — it is constantly playing host to cultural celebrations, performances, and art events. But to see so many people who were new to the area be so surprised and thrilled to discover that open secret was truly exciting to me.
So, as far as I am concerned, it was a great day for South L.A.
And I’m guessing some of you might have more fun experiences and photos to share (like those by Andy Rodriguez and Michael MacDonald of all the fun things I did not do found here). Please let us know how you spent CicLAvia in the comments below!