Leimert Park envisions the neighborhood in 2020

Brenda Shockley of Community Build addresses the audience| Photo credit: Sinduja Rangarajan

Brenda Shockley of Community Build addresses the audience. | Sinduja Rangarajan

Community members and leaders share the same bold vision for Leimert Park: By the time the Crenshaw/LAX Metro line links Leimert Park with Inglewood, the Los Angeles International Airport and other parts of the city six years from now, they envision their South Los Angeles neighborhood evolving into a tourist destination that showcases African-American arts and culture.

More than 150 people — a mix of architects, urban planners, activists, artists, bankers, realtors, lawmakers and local residents — began assembling as early as 8 a.m. Saturday at the historic Vision Theatre to discuss what they could do to shape the future of Leimert Park.

Last year the Metro Board approved to construction of a Leimert Park Village station on the Crenshaw/LAX Metro line. Since then, property owners reportedly have been bumping up real estate prices and forcing long-time commercial tenants out of business. Eviction notices sent to the iconic World Stage Theater by a real estate company in November prompted the neighborhood to come together to preserve this African-American cultural hub.

“Our property is going to have a lot more value than it does today,” said Roland Wiley, a community organizer and owner of the architectural and urban planning firm RAW International . “A lot more people will be interested in living where you live. A lot more people will be happy if you can’t pay your mortgage anymore and you gotta sell.”

Ronald Wiley of RAW International moderating a focus group discussion| Photo credit: Sinduja Rangarajan

Roland Wiley of RAW International moderates a focus group discussion. |  Sinduja Rangarajan

Wiley talked about gentrification, giving examples of U Street in Washington, D.C. and Harlem, urging the community to have a “collective, consistent, loud and committed voice” to preserve what it has.

The audience broke into focus groups to discuss three issues: the first looked at urban planning, while the other two focused on funding, investments and infrastructure, marketing and re-branding. The event was streamed online live on Leimert Park Village TV.

Wiley moderated the urban planning group, which included Reuben Caldwell from the Los Angeles city planning department, Silvia Lacy from the office of Council President Herb Wesson, Jr., Tom Gibson a landscape architect for the recreation and parks department the recreation and parks department and several local residents.

Wiley explained that to make Leimert Park sustainable, planners would have to create more employment opportunities and recreation venues within the area to keep community members from seeking jobs and entertainment outside the neighborhood.

“We all get in our cars and drive to the movies and drive to the shopping centers and drive to the cultural avenues,” said Wiley. “We don’t have those in the community here.”

Several residents said that they wanted the neighborhood to be more walkable and pedestrian friendly.

Ben Caldwell of Kaos network photographing the event| Photo credit: Sinduja Rangarajan

Ben Caldwell of Kaos Network photographs the event. | Sinduja Rangarajan

Michelle Papillion, the 30-year-old owner of an art gallery on Degnan Boulevard, Leimert Park’s main drag, suggested Degnan and 43rd Street should be closed to cars. Creating a plaza where people can walk and visit galleries would attract more businesses, she said.

“When this is completed…people will be flying in from all over the world,” she said. “People could park their cars in outside lots and have an art experience, a cultural experience.”

Community members said that in addition to these improvments, they needed more retail stores, sit-down restaurants and youth engagement programs in the neighborhood to add vibrancy, attract investors and visitors and get Leimert Park’s next generation plugged in to the community’s future.

“We need to integrate all this into one viable concept that says people can come here,” said Clint Rosemond, member of the Leimert Park Stakeholders group. ” There will be stuff for them to do when they get here. There will be food for them to eat and there will be songs for them to sing.”

Rosemond suggested that a museum showcasing African-American arts and music could serve as an anchor.

“The museum will celebrate jazz, blues and American gospel spiritual music,” he said.

After more than two hours of discussion, the groups took a lunch break and reconvened for a final panel discussion. The panel consisted of restaurant owners, bankers, realtors and community activists giving advice about launching small businesses.

Panel discussion members|Photo credit: Sinduja Rangarajan

Panel discussion members pose for a photo. | Sinduja Rangarajan

Michael Banner, president and CEO of Los Angeles LDC, said small businesses need “credibility, confidence and capability” to attract investments. Mark Robertson, president of Pacific Coast Regional, a non-profit that focuses on small business development, said that budding entrepreneurs should take advantage of the educational and counseling services that his firm provides.

Community health activist Lark Galloway-Gilliam urged the community to take initiative and work with city officials in the next nine months to make plans discussed over the weekend a reality. She said that the community has already lost some real estate, and, to curb the tide of that happening again, residents should become regularly involved in neighborhood affairs.

“We have to hold on to this land,” she said. “For homeowners, it’s about how our children can come back to the community as well because this is about our culture, our history and how we can preserve our economic and political base.”

Watch the entire six-hour session online here


Click to discover more from Leimert Park’s third renaissance.


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