In the last few weeks, the big news on the Los Angeles Riverfront has been the pending $1-billion investment to restore an 11-mile stretch of the waterway. While that may only be headline news fodder for some, to the communities living in Northeast Los Angeles, it spells a new, possibly daunting future. How can these communities find their voice, especially when competing with the more economically compelling developer interests? This is, in part, why the upcoming final report by the Northeast Los Angeles Riverfront Collaborative is so crucial.
The report, which will be shared with the community at an open house event this Saturday, represents a year and a half of work among a broad spectrum of organizations -- public agencies, universities, urban design, and media (including KCET Departures) -- who engaged in a series of visioning sessions, workshops, and events with the community in the hopes of giving voice to their hopes for the future of Northeast Los Angeles.
The resulting Vision Plan outlines eight overarching goals for the neighborhood, complete with a list of viable projects, policies, and programs that will help uplift the neighborhood, not just ecologically (as the ARBOR study purports to do), but economically as well.
Its most compelling feature, for those living outside Northeast Los Angeles, is that it gives us a clearer picture of who the people living and working by the river are. Yes, we've heard from the likes of Rick Cortez of RAC Design Build who fought hard to save the Riverside-Figueroa Bridge; Steve Appleton, who operates a kayaking company; and Grove Pashley, who helped save a Great Blue Heron. We've even glimpsed the neighborhood at work during the Great Los Angeles River clean-up. But these snapshots still don't give the full tale.
The report aggregates the communities of Atwater Village and Elysian Valley and portions of Lincoln Heights, Cypress Park, and Glassell Park, giving readers, developers and policymakers a full picture of the neighborhood without fishing details from various sources.
Readers find that the median household income in NELA ($37,035) is 34 percent lower than Los Angeles County. Almost 19 percent of households live below poverty levels, much higher than the 13.8 percent in the county. About 61 percent rent in NELA, compared to 51 percent in the county. It is even more diverse racially than the county, with Hispanic, Asian, and Black residents at 66.8 percent, 19.3 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively, versus 48.4 percent, 8.5 percent and 0.3 percent for the county.
Like Ceci Dominguez, who moved to Elysian Valley as a newlywed in the 1970s, more than half of residents living in NELA have been there longer than a decade. In a world where mobility is key, the neighborhood's relative stability has created strong community ties. Not surprisingly the "sense of community" regularly tops the surveys of what NELA communities are most proud of.
More than half of these people use the Los Angeles River, perhaps because it is as close to a natural open space as they can get. As Robert García and Ramya Sivasubramanian of the City Project calls out, "Of key concern in Los Angeles is the growing disparity of access to and use of open space resources, including parks, ball fields, and natural areas by those living in low income communities of color. Whole generations are growing up in Los Angeles without any meaningful relationship to the natural environment."
What could make for a better river for these communities? Surprisingly, it's not just more shopping venues, more events, and more pet-friendly opportunities; a better river for NELA means simply a cleaner, safer Los Angeles River. Their most prevalent worry isn't parking or traffic, but fixing the gang and vandalism problem.
While the meat of the report isn't to introduce the rest of Los Angeles to this part of Northeast Los Angeles, it is still a vital first step to the process. By opening our eyes to who and what Northeast Los Angeles is, city officials, public departments, and developers have a clearer idea of what's a stake when the time comes to talk about the future of Northeast Los Angeles and the river.
The report will be shared with the community at the Northeast Los Angeles Riverfront Collaborative Open House, this Saturday, June 21, 10 a.m. at RAC Design Build in Elysian Valley. More information here.