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#mylariver: Using Social Media to Document Field Work in Northeast L.A.


The Northeast L.A. Riverfront Collaborative is an interdisciplinary project that builds upon the growing momentum of efforts already underway to transform the Los Angeles River into a "riverfront district" and to create a focal point of community revitalization. KCET Departures is the media partner of the Northeast Los Angeles Riverfront Collaborative. For more information visit the website www.mylariver.org

When surveying the residents of Northeast Los Angeles, one of the most common questions they ask is, "Who's funding this?" I explain that the Northeast Los Angeles Riverfront Collaborative (NELA RC) is funded by a joint grant from the Department of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency. I don't blame them for being surprised that this grassroots research project is funded at the federal level. The government -- especially at that level -- isn't necessarily known to be very attentive to the needs of low-income, minority neighborhoods of California. But the Collaborative, and the interns who are on the field canvassing these neighborhoods, are trying to change that by working directly with the people in the community.

We may be able to hear and record the concerns of those we meet on the field, but how do we broadcast those sentiments on a larger scale? Luckily there's a fast and free way to do that: social media. The Collaborative has chosen Instagram as their main platform for sharing the dynamics of these neighborhoods. Though Twitter is also a very popular platform for sharing, the medium's communiques are limited to 140 characters, while a picture is worth a thousand words. Residents of Cypress Park can tell you the biggest problem in their neighborhood is trash -- you write it down and continue on with the survey. But sharing it in pictures, on an open social platform, makes it visible to everyone, not just those making the complaint.

Social media has revolutionized the way information is disseminated, making news and entertainment customizable at an individual level. You no longer have to scan the pages of a newspaper and hope to find an interesting article; now you can simply search a hashtag, and every recent narrative written on the subject will appear right before you. The difference now, though, is that whether it's a professional journal or a personal rant, every story is weighed the same in the context of your search. Just as Yelp has made everyone a pseudo food critic, Instagram has produced millions of photographers overnight. The beauty of Instagram is that individuals are able to share their daily experience through pictures with very little context or explanation necessary. Instagram has allowed the NELA RC interns to not only capture but to share their experiences of canvassing Atwater Village, Cypress Park, Elysian Valley, Glassell Park, and Lincoln Heights all summer.

mylariver tweet-thumb-517x611-60247

Being fairly local to the area, I've experienced bits and pieces of Northeast L.A. before this summer; however, walking the streets of these neighborhoods for four-hours-a-day, four-days-a-week has brought me a greater level of familiarity to the area. I've discovered a small business that's equal parts coffee house and equal parts community center, and local residents hoping to make a difference in their neighborhoods. Each of the Collaborative's interns and partners has had a unique experience with the project, which they have documented with Instagram. As the application grows to become more than just a place to share pictures of your brunch, local governments should take notice to what is important and share-worthy to the residents of their cities. Already, some posts have incited conversations about revitalization and gentrification, and how to balance the two while keeping the community's needs in mind.

Though the revitalization of the Los Angeles River is a hot topic of the day, it has long been a source of contemplation and contention for NELA residents. From the horse stables of Atwater Village to the community gardens of Elysian Valley, the residents of NELA have built both active and passive recreational and communal spaces adjoining the river. While the rest of the city plays in the hills and the beaches, NELA residents enjoy the river as their own escape from city life. Though the secluded nature of the river makes it a target for graffiti and transients, it's hard to not be overwhelmed by the natural beauty of egrets flying over freeways and ducks diving for food in the shadow of railroads.

To catch a glimpse of what NELA residents have enjoyed for years, and what the Collaborative interns discovered this past summer, search #mylariver on Instagram or Twitter and prepare to see Northeast L.A. and the river in all its filtered glory.

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