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Watts Waits: The Proposal to Rebuild Jordan Downs

Jordan Downs is a 43-acre public housing project in Watts originally developed as semi-permanent housing for war workers during the Second World War. After converting to public housing in 1955, Jordan Downs gradually become known through the 1960s and beyond as one of the most dangerous projects in the city. This period of time was marked by a huge loss of manufacturing jobs across Southeast Los Angeles and the dramatic proliferation of street gangs that came to rise to fill the void. As the years went on, this widespread disenfranchisement made Jordan Downs a mecca for criminal activity. Aside from being one of the flashpoints of both the 1965 Watts Uprisings and 1992 Rodney King Rebellion, it was also the epicenter of the Grape Street Crips and a site of interethnic tension in the last generation.

LAPL: Children at Jordan Downs Housing Project
Children at Jordan Downs Housing Project (1957), photo courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library

 

In spite of all this, Jordan Downs has been the home of thousands of Angelenos, including the Gold medal winner Florence Griffith-Joyner who grew up there before achieving Olympic greatness. More recently, Project Fatherhood, a coalition of Black fathers dedicated to their children and improving their community has emerged from the complex. Around this time, Watts itself has been having its own renaissance.

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Along with a dramatic decrease in crime around Watts and Jordan Downs over the last decade, a number of new projects have developed like Serenity Park on Monitor Avenue, a refurbished swimming pool on 109th Street and a new streetscape project on 103rd Street. Furthermore, as I reported in August 2015, a coalition of stakeholders have been reimagining Watts with other projects like the Children’s Institute campus designed by Frank Gehry, Roy Choi’s new Loco’l restaurant and John Jones’s Eastside Riders Bicycle Club and their retail space on Central Avenue.

Watts Re:Imagined, a plan to revitalize Watts
A rendering of a master plan of the Watts Corridor toward downtown that will include retail and housing. Image courtesy of Watts Re:Imagined

Nonetheless, as 15th District Councilmember Joe Buscaino recently lamented in an Op-Ed for the Los Angeles Times, Jordan Downs has been left out of this redevelopment. Though there have been plans discussed to transform Jordan Downs into a 119-acre mixed-income, mixed-use urban village with new stores and open space -- the funding necessary for this next chapter of Jordan Downs has been declined twice by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In the meantime, Jordan Downs’ residents await the $30-million needed for the federal Choice Neighborhood Implementation grant necessary to transform the aging complex.

Filmmaker Drew Bachrach captures the current climate of anticipation and frustration at Jordan Downs in his film, “Watts Waits.”  Aside from capturing some of the project’s history, Bachrach’s film showcases the family spirit that defines Jordan Downs as well as the benefits that the redevelopment could bring for the future of Watts and residents of Jordan Downs. As his film demonstrates, the patient denizens of Jordan Downs deserve the opportunity for a better quality of life that this next chapter will bring. In the meantime though as the efforts to obtain funding continue, occupants of Jordan Downs and the rest of Watts, wait.