The Influence of “Latino Urbanism” in Reshaping Los Angeles

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Food truck in Wilmington, Los Angeles, California

The influx of immigrants from Latin America has significantly increased since 1965. Push factors such as limited economic opportunities, authoritarian or corrupt governments, wars, and natural disasters have all played a significant role in why people from the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, and South America have made the decision to emigrate to the United States. The migration of Latino immigrants to cities like Los Angeles further reinforces the notion of a “Multicultural America.” Where, one can savor a variety of cuisines, dance to different musical rhythms, and hear words and phrases spoken in Spanish and/or other dialects.

The influence of Latino culture is also reflected in the way Latinos utilize space in their communities or as James Rojas would call it the “enacted environment” or “Latino Urbanism.” In his 1991 thesis, The Enacted Environment: The Creation of Place by Mexican and Mexican Americans in East Los Angeles, Rojas discusses the way Latinos—specifically Mexicans and Mexican Americans—made use of spaces like the front yard, sidewalk, and the street in East Los Angeles. He argues that the person is not only the user but also the creator of such spaces. He cites as examples:

  • A quinceañera celebration in the front yard,
  • Kids playing a hockey or soccer game on the street,
  • Mariachis walking on the sidewalks waiting to serenade someone,
  • Street vendors on a street corner selling tamales or tacos, and
  • Murals painted on blank wall spaces that become a cultural expression.
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Mural in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, California

More than 30 years later, we see these enacted environments taking place in other communities of Los Angeles and across the country. For instance, the first CicLAvia was held in Los Angeles on October 2010 and was inspired by ciclovía events that started forty years ago in Bogota, Colombia. This open streets initiative closes the streets to car traffic and allows Angelenos to walk, bike, and mingle with others. Latino Urbanism is thereby reshaping present-day Los Angeles.

However, there are aspects of it that have generated discussions and debates among Angelenos. Currently communities like Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles seek to legalize street vending, which for many represents a form of stable income for their families while others argue unfair competition and blight. Conversely, in August of 2013, the City of Los Angeles lifted a ten year ban on public murals, a component that has become a cultural icon of communities like Boyle Heights and Pacoima. This makes one wonder: how then do we reconcile the differences that exist between Latino Urbanism practices and enacted local municipal codes?

How has Latino Urbanism reshaped your community? How have local government officials responded to the influence of Latino Urbanism? 

Credits: Image #1 by Marisol Maciel-Cervantes; Image #2 linked to source.  Data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in January 2016. H/T The Global Grid

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Central Avenue Jazz Festival: Celebrating Cultural History in South Los Angeles

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Dunbar Hotel in Central Avenue, Los Angeles, California

In July 2015, the Vernon-Central neighborhood of South Los Angeles closed segments of Central Avenue to celebrate the annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival. That year was particularly special as it marked the twentieth anniversary of this event. Co-sponsored by the 9th District Los Angeles City Councilmember Curren D. Price, Jr. and Coalition for Responsible Community Development, this free two-day event attracts approximately 35,000 people every year. The festival represents an opportunity for members of the community and visitors alike to come together and make use of space usually reserved for transit. One can enjoy savory multicultural cuisine while visiting several pavilions and listening to live performances that include musical genres such as jazz, blues, and Latin jazz. Across two large stages, attendees listened to performers that included Alfredo Rodriguez Trio, the Kenny Burell Big Band, and Poncho Sanchez.

The jazz festival is a tribute to the community’s rich cultural history. During the 1930s and 1940s, Central Avenue was a vibrant center for jazz in this historically African-American area of the City of Los Angeles. Central Avenue also served as a temporary home for jazz legends like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong. Despite being able to perform at venues such as the Hollywood Bowl, these jazz legends were unable to stay in the vicinity as there were racially restrictive covenants in place at the time that demarcated the areas where African-Americans were allowed to live.  Therefore, these jazz musicians, along with other visiting African-Americans celebrities, would stay at the now historical-cultural monument, the Dunbar Hotel located on Central Avenue.

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Stage at Central Avenue Jazz Festival, South Los Angeles, California

At the time, the Dunbar Hotel featured a night club called the Club Alabam where various jazz greats would play after hours. During this period of time, a vibrant scene of jazz clubs, literary societies, and concert venues existed around Central Avenue. As such, this area nurtured an atmosphere of cultural energy for talented African-Americans. It is this cultural richness that the Central Jazz Festival seeks to pay homage to and promulgate amongst enthusiasts and spectators.

Today the cultural influence of jazz and blues continues to be alive along Central Avenue via the annual celebration of the Central Avenue Jazz Festival.  In addition, this event has come to represent an opportunity to introduce and expose other sounds and rhythms to attendees.  The addition of other musical elements not only further enriches the experience of those present but it is also serves as an indicator of how music and this community have evolved with the passage of time.

How does your community make use of space to bring members of the community together? How does your community celebrate its cultural history? 

Credits: Image #1 linked to source; Image #2 by Marisol Maciel-Cervantes.  Data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in January 2016. H/T The Global Grid

 

Touring Los Angeles, California Through a Toxic Lens

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Port of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

When visiting Los Angeles, one of the first things that often comes to mind is taking a tour of Hollywood or Beverly Hills. But how about opting for a Toxic Tour instead? The Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), an environmental justice organization that empowers people directly affected by pollution to solve their own problems, has been giving Toxic Tours since 1995. The purpose of these tours is to increase the public awareness of the minority communities and low-income communities that are most directly impacted by various sources of toxins and pollution.

Communities for a Better Environment offers a tour to the general public every quarter, which can either be narrated in English or Spanish by community organizer Roberto Cabrales. The toxic tour may focus in any of the following industrial neighborhoods, which include Bell, Huntington Park, Long Beach, San Pedro, Vernon, or Wilmington. In the tour one will see any of the following sites:

Such sites represent an environmental hazard and generate serious health problems to the residents of the communities, which are predominantly working class Latinos.

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Refinery in Wilmington, Los Angeles, California

Recent research conducted in the Los Angeles area primarily by scientists of the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Southern California (USC), has found that there is a correlation between people living in proximity to freeways and a range of health problems that include asthma, reduced lung functioning, cardiovascular disease, and autism. In fact, the area that extends from Long Beach to East Los Angeles, is often referred to as the diesel death zone,” since emissions from trucks, ships, trains, and other diesel-powered sources are common here. Despite the decline in emissions around the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach due to the implementation of new technologies—such as clean-truck program—the severe levels of pollution remain. Furthermore, hot spots for cancer-causing traffic pollutants have been found throughout the area, especially along the 710 freeway—which extends from Long Beach to Alhambra.

Given this reality, it is necessary to bring awareness to the public about the environmental and health hazards that residents of some of our communities must endure. Moreover, it is important to empower these populations by providing them with organizing skills, leadership training, as well as legal, scientific and technical assistance. However, it is also the obligation of policy makers and government officials to address these issues through legislation and initiatives.

Do you live in a community that is exposed to environmental hazards? What steps are being taken by policy makers and government officials in your community to address the issue(s)? 

Credits: Images by Marisol Maciel-Cervantes. Data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in August 2015. H/T The Global Grid

 

Plans to Revitalize Los Angeles’ Jordan Downs now in Jeopardy over Federal Money

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Jordan Downs Public Housing Project in Watts, Los Angeles, California

In March of 2014, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) learned that it would not receive a $30-million Choice Neighborhoods federal grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The decision represented a setback in the revitalization of the Jordan Downs housing project. It also was the cause of concern among some residents who, in the past, have experienced disillusionment when proposals to transform Jordan Downs have fallen apart. However, there is hope from the developers that funding for the project will come from other sources.

Jordan Downs is a 714-unit public housing project located in Watts, California. It was named after long-time residents of the area, David Starr Jordan and Samuel Elliot Downs. The premises consist of 103 buildings that range in size from one to five bedrooms. Owned and managed by HACLA, the apartment complex was originally built as semi-permanent housing for war workers during World War II. However, in the early 1950s, HACLA converted the dwellings into public housing.

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Jordan Downs Public Housing Project in Watts, Los Angeles, California

Plans to revitalize Jordan Downs began in the fall of 2008 when HACLA and the City of Los Angeles issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) and Request for Qualifications (RFQ) package for the redevelopment of the apartment complex. City officials also made it clear that they sought to create a “vibrant urban village that is sustainable, mixed-used, mixed-income community that includes green development and encompasses all the amenities that enable communities to ‘sustain’ over the long term.” That same year, HACLA acquired a nearby 21-acre piece of land for $31 million. The purchase serves as an indicator of their intent to expand upon the existing housing project.

It is envisioned that this $700 million multi-phase redevelopment project will replace the existing 714 public housing apartments and add up to 1,400 affordable and market-rate homes. Furthermore, the urban village will include neighborhood-serving retail, community centers, and parks. The plan also proposes the development of a comprehensive Human Capital Plan to provide family support, job training, and community programs for residents to move forward toward self-sufficiency. Collaborating in this vision is a private development team hired by city officials, the for-profit Michaels Organization and the non-profit Bridge Housing. The retail component of the proposed project will be undertaken by Primestor Development Inc., a Los Angeles company known for working in underserved areas.

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Jordan Downs Public Housing Project in Watts, Los Angeles, California

Today, plans to move forward with the proposed project continue. However, HACLA and its team will have to address some concerns that have been conveyed by local residents, advocacy groups, and other interested stakeholders. Among these are:

  • Secure funding that will enable the revitalization of Jordan Downs housing project;
  • Confirm that there is no contamination of the soil in the proposed site or sites adjacent to the proposed project given the history of heavy industrialization in the area;
  • Ensure that existing residents are not displaced as a result of this redevelopment project;
  • Implement the proposed Human Capital Plan;
  • Attract investment into the community;
  • Continue to decrease the crime rates in the Jordan Downs.

What redevelopment initiative has served as a catalyst for revitalizing your community into an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable neighborhood? How have local officials in your community addressed financing challenges in publicly funded projects?

Credits: Images by Marisol Maciel-Cervantes. Data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in August 2015. H/T The Global Grid

Los Angeles’ South Park BID Embarks on Green Alley Initiative

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Alley in Los Angeles, California

In many cities around the world, the use of alleyways have been an integral part of the urban landscape. They have been a place of cultural and civic activity. However, in the United States, we have often viewed alleys as being unappealing service corridors associated with crime, vice, and street vagrancy. In other words, a space that is not meant for public use. However, several cities across the United States, including Baltimore, Chicago, and Seattle, have begun taking steps towards revitalizing their alleys through the infusion of green elements.

Envisioning a more sustainable and greener community, the South Park Business Improvement District (South Park BID) partnered with the Los Angeles Sustainability Collaborative (LASC) to organize the preparation of the “Green Alleys in South Park Visioning Report.” This report provides a series of recommendations for creating more green spaces through the revitalization of its twenty-two alleyways. The report provides three different typologies that would serve as a guide for their transformation. These are: Typology A (complete transformation); Typology B (partial transformation); and Typology C (baseline transformation).

Typology A is characterized by maximizing the pedestrian and cyclist experience. This means that, with the exception of emergency vehicles, there would be restrictions to all motorized transport and illegal dumping.

Under Typology B, the use of vehicles is allowed except for parking purposes and long idling periods. In addition, it grants all forms of transportation equal use of the space, as well as to the general public. Like Typology A, illegal dumping is prohibited.

Typology C grants the general public full access to the alley and allows for all forms of transportation. Like in Typology A and B, illegal dumping is prohibited. This typology enables vehicles to freely use the alleys for means of access and short-cutting but it means that it would limit the full community development potential.

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Alley in Los Angeles, California

Common design interventions across all three typologies include:

  • Permeable Surfaces
  • Drought-Tolerant Plants
  • Pedestrian Lighting
  • Recycling and Trash Cans
  • Public Art, Murals, Green Walls and Other Façade Improvements
  • Bike Racks
  • Wayfinding Signage and Branding
  • Monitored and Patrolled Regularly
  • Dog Waste Stations

Seeking creative ways to make use of underutilized spaces is necessary in areas that currently lack green space and inviting public spaces. However, there are some challenges that will have to be addressed when implementing any of these design ideas into the twenty-two alleys. Among these are the limited funding sources and the existing City of Los Angeles code and policies that do not contain provisions for this type of project. There is hope that through community participation, public-private partnerships, and changes to the Quimby Act, the revitalization of these alleys will take place.

How has the revitalization of alleys impacted the development of your community? What initiatives and policies have proved to be beneficial in making alleys greener in your community? 

Credits: Images by Marisol Maciel-Cervantes. and data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in August 2015. H/T The Global Grid

Will Metro’s TOD Projects Gentrify Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles?

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Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, California

In December of 2013, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) issued separate Request for Proposals (RFPs) for three Metro-owned sites in Boyle Heights. Since then, Metro has announced several transit-oriented development projects by the Gold Line stations. Specifically, these are the Mariachi Plaza Commercial Development, The Santa Cecilia Apartments, Las Mariposas Apartments, Los Tulipanes Apartments, and the Chavez/Soto Mixed-Use project, all of which are near the Mariachi Plaza or Soto stations. This means new space for retail, medical offices, affordable housing, and parking in the area.

The Mariachi Plaza Commercial Development is one of the projects that Metro hopes will attract more riders to the area. This proposed $49-million project will consist of two structures:

  • A three-story building with a gym, restaurants, and shops;
  • An eight-story building with six levels of parking and two floors of medical offices

The proposed development would result in the demolition of several small businesses, such as J&F Ice Cream, Santa Cecilia Restaurant, and Libros Schimbros. Furthermore, it already presents a dramatic transformation of Mariachi Plaza, a public space that has served as a gathering place for musicians since the 1930s and is considered a cultural icon by many of its residents.

In response, the community of Boyle Heights has expressed their discontent and disappointment at the lack of inclusion in the planning process. They have vocalized that as proposed, this project is not taking account their needs, culture, and current socio-economic situation. Many residents fear that said construction will only lead to higher rents and consequently displace those who cannot afford to pay said increases. In fact, some have already stated that rents are going up in Boyle Heights.

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Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, California

In addition to holding community meetings, Metro could also do the following to gain the trust of local residents and come to a compromise that would benefit all of those involved:

  • Form partnerships with local community-based organizations to participate in the planning process of the proposed project and form a community advisory board.
  • Schedule charrettes meetings in which municipal officials, developers, community-based organizations, and residents participate and partake in the creation of joint solutions to the proposed project.
  • A Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) to address any remaining differences between the residents and developer.

Back in February [2015], Metro’s Deputy Executive Officer of Countywide Planning, Jenna Hornstock, acknowledged at a community meeting that the agency had made a mistake by excluding the residents of Boyle Heights from the planning process. She stated that it would start over, request new development proposals, and make the process more inclusive. However, it is uncertain if Metro will achieve this when there is great discontent among the residents and concerned that their neighborhood may become gentrified.

Are there any indicators that gentrification is taking place in your neighborhood? How has your community’s capacity to organize benefited the sustainable development of your community? 

Credits: Images by Marisol Maciel-Cervantes. Data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in July 2015. H/T The Global Grid

Is Inglewood, California the Next City to Have a New NFL Stadium?

 

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Hollywood Park in Inglewood, California

The last time Los Angeles had a football team was in 1994, when both the Raiders and Rams called it their home. Since then, proposals for a team have come and gone. One of the key factors for alluring a professional team is the venue. Recent proposals for the construction of a new stadium have included the locations of downtown Los Angeles, Inglewood, and Carson. At the time of this writing, the proposed stadium project, Farmers Field, in downtown Los Angeles will not be moving forward, thereby making the proposed projects in Inglewood and Carson the most promising options.

Dubbed as the “City Champions Revitalization Project,” Stan Kroenke’s proposed Inglewood complex includes an 80,000-seat stadium with 9,000 parking spaces. After purchasing the sixty acres last year, Kroenke envisions the project to be “the world’s most interactive and integrated football stadium, a futuristic, $1.86-billion, privately financed venue proposed for the Hollywood Park site in Inglewood.” What distinguishes this project from the rest is its place in a heavy retail-entertainment redevelopment that would include an additional performance venue along with retail, office, hotel, and residential space. Thus far, Kroenke’s proposed project seems very promising, as it already has a committed team (St. Louis Rams), it has managed to bypass a lengthy environmental review and possible legal challenges, and it was approved back in February 2015 by the Inglewood City Council with a 5-0 vote. If the proposed project continues as planned, it is anticipated that the stadium will be completed by 2018.

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Inglewood Forum in Inglewood, California

Design features of the proposed stadium include:

  • A huge, snail-shaped clear roof that can be used “to create the world’s biggest billboard,” visible to the millions of travelers flying in and out of Los Angeles annually.
  • Built to accommodate two teams, the stadium will have two home locker rooms, identical sets of office space, and two owners’ suites.
  • Four-sided design allows the venue to be accessed by the public from 360 degrees.
  • Built below ground level to comply with height restrictions imposed on buildings within LAX flight path.

Supporters of the project argue that this will generate more than 10,000 jobs and new tax revenue to the city. However, there is concern from union labor leaders who are worried that developers will not keep their promise of bringing “good jobs” to Inglewood, as the latter has so far refused to officially commit to hiring union workers to build and operate the stadium. In response, unions have been quietly gathering petition signatures in Inglewood that could lead to a local vote on the plan, which could potentially override the City Council’s vote and delay the construction of the proposed project. Alternatively, this point of contention may be addressed through the creation of a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), which will serve as a tool that would contribute to the improvement of the sustainable economic development of Inglewood.

What types of public-private partnerships arrangements and/or agreements have proved beneficial to the sustainable economic development of your community? How has the public sector attracted private investment in your community? 

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in July 2015. H/T The Global Grid