Author: Keegan McChesney
Colorado Boulevard and Figueroa Street, two of the main corridors through Eagle Rock and Highland Park, have recently become epicenters for community growth. The “Take Back the Boulevard” initiative on Colorado has demonstrated an emphasis on replacing transit with sidewalk and bike lane space. City Councilman Gil Cedillo has also simultaneously proposed a pilot program on Figueroa that aims to increase sidewalk seating for restaurants. Improving the streetscape to encourage community interaction will prove a positive contribution to Eagle Rock and Highland Park as long as it does not displace current community members.
Both of these initiatives signify a trend in the two neighboring communities: a movement toward reclaiming the streets and sidewalks for people rather than cars. The initiatives serve as part of a growing campaign to ameliorate public community spaces with the streets and sidewalks chosen as the initial targets. However, it must be determined whether the community really wants this transformation or whether it is solely politicians who are pushing these changes.
The “Take Back the Boulevard” initiative is a community coalition leading the charge to improve the neighborhood, based on the perspective of current community members.
“The mission of the Take Back the Boulevard initiative is to serve as a catalyst for the community-driven revitalization of Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock,” the initiative’s website says. “The Take Back the Boulevard initiative seeks to utilize broad community feedback and involvement to make this central corridor through Eagle Rock a safe, sustainable and vibrant street in order to stimulate economic growth, increase public safety and enhance community pride and wellness.”
The key phrase here is “community-driven,” something which the Figueroa proposal does not emphasize. Cedillo argues that his proposed 12-month pilot program, which allows businesses on Figueroa to provide outdoor seating without having to pay the costly permit fees, will deter crime, promote business interests and create a lively community.
“Dining outdoors is very inviting to many people, and outdoor dining can turn an area into a pedestrian and a community destination,” Cedillo’s proposed motion says.
Such local engagement is beneficial for the safety and happiness of residents, but when the implementation of reform debilitates preexisting businesses and strengthens new ones, a process of gentrification takes place.
Connecting both neighborhoods, York Boulevard serves as an interesting case study for examining the effects of such expansion policies. According to the blog The Eastsider L.A., York was placed on a “road diet” in 2006 when the street was choked down to two traffic lanes and the sidewalk was made significantly wider.
With more sidewalk space available, many businesses on York were able to provide outdoor seating for their customers. While some local business began thriving, others dwindled. A new class of entrepreneurs seized the opportunity to start businesses and York hasn’t looked the same since.
“Anyone who heard reports of Highland Park’s revitalization a few years ago and headed to York Boulevard likely would have … asked ‘Really’ a 2012 Los Angeles Times Blog article says, describing York’s shift towards a more “hip” array of businesses.
“Though the street’s vibe is still ruled by urban grit, for better or for worse not one but two storefronts have been claimed as the future homes for that symbol of neighborhood renewal: the wine bar. If the gentrification gets you down, you still can get a sad face inked on your arm the Vintage Tattoo Art Parlor,” the article said.
Reform of this nature tends to be accompanied by a group of winners and a group of losers. As cute cafés and boutiques begin to slide the retail experience up the economic scale, rent skyrockets and largely displaces the community’s less affluent residents.
As Damian Mendieta wrote in The Occidental Weekly last semester, “the arrival of gentrification means the resurgence of a predominantly white population at the cost of displacing people and businesses of color.”
The York case proved that misguided policy has the potential to lead to powerful shifts in the community. Colorado and Figueroa could meet the same fate if council members make changes in the same fashion. If Cedillo’s proposal is approved, Figueroa appears destined for more of the same. However the “Take Back the Boulevard” plan for Colorado is promising because the call for change is coming from the community, driven toward the best interest of its residents, who have diverse concerns that must be considered.
Eagle Rock and Highland Park have long histories of demographic change. Potential conflicts lie in the diversity of cultures and interests of the Eagle Rock and Highland Park neighborhoods. Such varying opinions and needs show the importance of compromise rather than self-interested reform.
An effective revitalization of Figueroa and Colorado could foster community engagement by encouraging citizens to spend more time outside at local establishments and by limiting crime. While improvements are necessary, the goal of these initiatives should be to maximize community benefits and minimize resident displacement, keeping community interest at the heart of the issue.
The communities of Colorado and Figueroa are due for revision, but this should stem directly from community members and aim to help the existing neighborhood as a whole.
Keegan McChesney is a sophomore politics and Urban and Environmentally Policy double major. He can be reached at McChesney@oxy.edu or on Twitter at @WklyKMcChesney.
This article has been archived, for more requests please contact us via the support system.