A Day in the Sun?

La Brea Avenue in Inglewood, "L.A. Neighborhood of the Year" according to Curbed L.A. | Photo: Google Street View

Recently I was talking to Kerry Newsome, owner of NewStyleWeb boutique on north La Brea Avenue in Inglewood. I started frequenting the place years ago for the sharp, reasonably priced shoes and clothes and kept coming back for those things, and for the singular ambience that's part chic boutique, part barber shop. The many lively conversations I've had with Kerry span fashion, politics, culture, and American history, and how all those things interact and inform the modern, often confounding realities of race. The talk always makes the shopping more satisfying.

On my last visit there we talked a lot about police brutality -- Inglewood got on that map long before Ferguson -- but we also talked about Inglewood itself. That's a running topic of ours, the state of the city and how its endless struggles to self-realize are rooted in a history of black spaces being devalued and ignored, even by black people. No wonder that it often seems that successful redevelopment doesn't stand a chance. Economics, real estate prices and available land are all part of what drives redevelopment, but Kerry and I agree that what really drives it is desirability -- a widely accepted real-estate term that's code for an area's ability to attract upwardly mobile, chiefly young white people. That's the je ne sais quoi that's transformed places like Silver Lake and downtown and is now transforming Highland Park at breakneck speed. Inglewood, Kerry and I agree, is still perceived as too black and therefore still too forbidding for the upwardly mobile-minded to muscle in, even the hardy urban pioneer types. We're on our own.

But now we're being told that Inglewood is on the verge. The resounding first-year success of the refurbished, concerts-only Fabulous Forum and the possibility of getting an NFL football stadium plus another entertainment venue built from the ground up are but two of the reasons Curbed L.A. recently named Inglewood L.A.'s Best Neighborhood of the Year (we beat out old-money heavies like Los Feliz). More value will be added by Metro's upcoming Crenshaw rail line that will run through Inglewood on its way to LAX; our mayor, James Butts, now has a seat on the MTA board. Then there are those things that recommend Inglewood that have always frankly recommended, but not transformed it -- good location, proximity to the ocean, attractive housing prices. Inglewood's city council is recognizing the fact that we've long had a robust but underground artist community by officially encouraging artists to locate here, especially in the north end around NewStyleWeb.

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It all feels encouraging, and not a little flattering. Certainly our moment in the sun feels past due. I'm especially excited about Inglewood growing a reputation as an artist's hub. But neither Kerry nor I are convinced that this flurry of media interest is anything beyond a moment. History has already shown us that having the Forum in town, which previously housed the signature L.A. sports franchise, the Lakers, doesn't automatically benefit Inglewood. There's no trickle-down. A Laker-ized Forum didn't hurt anything, but on its own it did nothing to stop the economic and civic slide initiated roughly 50 years ago by massive white flight and disinvestment (50 years ago was also when the Forum opened for business -- pretty bad timing). That doesn't negate the good characteristics that Inglewood has and always had. Trust me, I'm a fan. But the truth is that the Forum and the recently departed Hollywood Park always operated in a kind of bubble, in Inglewood but never really of it. That seemed by design, and our city government did nothing, or didn't do enough, to try and change things. It just seemed grateful that the Forum was here at all.

What we really need to thrive is not just shiny retail outlets or a football stadium or entertainment venue, but businesses and real places of employment. We need residents holding officials accountable for acting on the people's behalf, not on the behalf of multimillionaires dangling promises of fame and civic validation that small cities, especially those of color, are always too desperate to have.

One of Inglewood's proudest moments was 2004, when voters rejected an attempt by Wal-Mart to build a SuperCenter store on the site where Rams owner Stan Kroenke is now proposing to build a stadium (not coincidentally, Kroenke made his millions building stores for Wal-Mart). The world's biggest retailer wanted to fast-track the project by skipping the usual city oversight, including environmental reviews, and sank more than $1 million in a ballot initiative and a slick ad campaign to get its way. The voters, who had no campaign and virtually no money, said no. It's that kind of self-determination and sense of what's best for itself that Inglewood really needs more of. Plus a few more hip boutiques.To get a sense of both, I recommend dropping by Kerry's place.

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