WEST COAST HARLEM? New South L.A. projects seek to improve quality of Black life

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By Janice Hayes Kyser

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Leimert Park civic leader Gina Fields has never seen so many cranes, cones and construction workers in her South L.A. neighborhood, which many observers say has seen better days.

The longtime Leimert Park resident and community activist said she’s excited about the progress she sees and feels on practically every street corner.

“It is great to see South L.A. getting the attention we have always deserved,” says Fields, chair of the Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Development Council, one of the city’s 99 neighborhood councils. “I welcome change that will improve the quality of life for everyone who calls South L.A. home.”

Fields is not alone.

It seems that everywhere you turn in South L.A., development is booming — from affordable housing and shopping malls to grocery stores, parks and public art displays — as developers follow the light rail extension along the Crenshaw Corridor.

L.A. City Planning Department spokesperson Nora Frost says the Community Plan for South Los Angeles is consistent with the city’s overall strategy of preserving, stabilizing and unlocking the potential of areas around public transit.

She said the plan reflects the community’s vision of a diverse and dynamic enclave that respects and reflects African-American culture and history. It also addresses concerns about traffic, affordable housing and infrastructure improvements.

“The community and its leaders had a clear vision for the Crenshaw corridor and South L.A.,” Frost said. “It is exciting to see a transit rich corridor revitalized with resources that meet the needs of the community.”

Fields says she supports progress and development in her neighborhood, but she worries that the infrastructure is not equipped to handle the pedestrian and vehicular traffic that new development will bring.

She said she also is concerned that gentrification may price many current families and businesses out of the area.

Jason Foster, president and chief operating officer of Destination Crenshaw, a project committed to putting a cultural stamp on Crenshaw Boulevard through public art, says his biggest fear is that the community fears change.

“After 40 years of disinvestment that fear is understandable, but without change, how do you improve?” Foster asks.

“My goal is to change the orientation around change. It can be intentional — specific to our community and beneficial to our community.”

City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents the 8th Council District, which encompasses much of South L.A., concurs with Foster.

He envisions a cultural mecca where people from all over the city, the state, country and world come to learn about and immerse themselves in Black culture.

“I am encouraged that sons and daughters of South L.A. are connecting with investors to build out the community’s vision,” Harris-Dawson said. “Together they are creating a vibrant community that provides the services you would find in other areas while centering on Black culture in an unapologetic way. “

Fields shares that vision.

“When you come to South L.A., we want you to experience Black culture in the same way people go to Harlem in New York for that purpose,” she said. “We want to show you love, good food, good art and a good vibe.”

That vibe of South L.A. is currently a work in progress with myriad projects at different stages including:

  • The Light rail line: The Crenshaw/LAX “K” Line is an 8.5-mile light rail line that will include eight new stations to serve the Crenshaw, Inglewood, Westchester and LAX communities.

A ninth station will be added after it opens to connect the Crenshaw/LAX Line, with the C Line (Green) and bus lines to the future LAX Automated People Mover. In July an official ribbon cutting was held for the Crenshaw/Exposition station. The project is expected to open sometime this fall.

  • Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza: Architects are busy drawing plans for the reimagined Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, a mixed-use retail and residential development that developers say will honor Black culture by giving aspiring Black entrepreneurs access to start-up capital and a stake in the project.

Beverly Hills-based Harridge Development Group, which purchased the mall last year, also pledged to give the Museum of African American Art a prominent location in the new development along with community meeting space.

Additionally, 10% of the housing will be set aside for low-income residents and 10% for work force housing for teachers and other professionals who are often priced out of the housing market. No date has been released for groundbreaking.

  • Destination Crenshaw: When the Crenshaw LAX line was announced and the community learned that construction would involve displacing hundreds of businesses and trees to make way for the above ground rail line, Destination Crenshaw had a plan. South L.A. wasn’t going to be just a place to pass through, but a place to be.

In addition to supporting impacted businesses and ensuring 70% of construction workers on the rail project live in the area, the plan calls for beautifying the Crenshaw Corridor with pocket parks and indoor and outdoor spaces that feature more than 100 commissioned works of arts by emerging, mid-career and established Black artists with strong ties to L.A.

When it is complete, the first public park and art installation are scheduled to open in April 2023, it will be the largest Black project in the country. For more information visit https://destinationcrenshaw.la.

  • Stocker Street Creative: Plans are moving forward with the Stocker Street Creative redevelopment project. The vision is to create a community-focused creative campus, consisting of entertainment, technology, and TV/film production studios on the site of historic buildings along Stocker Street.

The team is planning a construction summit designed to create networking and job opportunities for local construction companies and contractors.

The event is currently scheduled for Oct. 6, and will take place onsite at one of their landmark buildings. For more information, visit www.StockerStreetCreative.com.

  • Manchester Urban Homes: A 122-unit rental complex near 87th Street and Broadway for workforce, low-income and displaced veterans. Construction is scheduled to start in the first quarter of next year. Transportation and job assistance programs and a free bike-sharing program also will be available to residents. For more information visit nhslacounty.org.
  • Crenshaw Crossing: A mixed-use housing and commercial development adjacent to light rail stations on the east and west sides of Crenshaw Boulevard between Obama and Exposition boulevard.

The project which has been approved, but has not broken ground, includes two eight-story buildings with 401 residential units, with 61 units reserved for very low-income households and 20 units reserved for low-income households.

There will be 40,454 square feet of commercial and community floor area, including a full-service grocery store.

  • Western Avenue Project: Councilman Harris-Dawson’s office is working with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and StreetsLA to make the highly dangerous segment of Western Avenue safer.

The project includes adding lights, crosswalks, speed bumps, traffic circles and a number of other improvements designed to reduce accidents along the busy corridor.

In addition, trees and medians will be added to improve the appearance of the corridor and provide better access to commercial businesses on the street.


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