Last month, on a bright and sunny Saturday, the East Side Riders Bike Club (ESRBC) opened their brand new bike co-op in Watts to much fanfare. Located at 11321 S. Central Avenue in the heart of South Central Los Angeles, a group of bike riders and other active transportation supporters, including other bike clubs and community members, joined in the celebration of the new shop that will tune and rehab bicycles, teach bike maintenance skills, organize safety classes and unity rides, and above all, continue to foster a positive community for at-risk youth.
The opening of the ESRBC bike co-op was the most recent in a series of positive stories coming out of the community this past summer that commemorated the 50 year anniversary of The Watts Riots. While the demographic conditions have shifted as the community becomes increasingly more Hispanic and less African-American, the hard realities of what is now called “South Los Angeles” prevail. Watts is still one of the poorest, most under-educated and underserved areas in the city. It is a food desert. It has the highest rate of single parent households in the County. And it is still one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the region.
Watts is also in the process of reimagining itself.
Yet within this complicated context of history, demographic trends, and economic disparity, Watts Reimagined, led by Grant Housing and Economic Development Corporation in partnership with the National Resource Defense Council and other community stakeholder groups is doing something refreshing. Instead of putting together more plans, it is doing the good, hard work of implementing the plans that already exist for the area. Watts Reimagined emerged after the state ended community redevelopment agencies, and has been focused on Main Street Watts and gateway development projects, a green streets program, wellness strategy, and advocacy for various ongoing projects.
Fresh off the reopening and subsequent redevelopment of the MLK Hospital designed by HMC Architects just to the south across the I-105, you can almost feel the change coming to the neighborhood.
Gehry Partners and (fer) Studio in Inglewood are teaming up to support the expansion of the Children’s Institute, a local social service provider located in downtown Watts (See “Gehry and (fer) Making Their Mark in Watts” AN Blog 08.08.2014). The planned redevelopment, currently in the design process, seeks to refocus the Institute along a central green alley in this park-poor neighborhood. The two-acre, 50,000-square-foot campus will help expand the non-profit’s services to over 5,000 families with a new multipurpose space, art room, kitchen, activity rooms, sports facilities, tech lab, offices, counseling rooms, and observation spaces.
Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ truck fame is opening the first L.A. location of his healthy fast-food establishment, LocaL, at a former bodega on 103rd and Grape Streets. The location in Watts is representative of Mr. Choi’s commitment to underserved communities. It is currently fund-raising and drumming up support on Indiegogo, and plans to launch by the end of the year.
And city councilman Joe Buscaino has been focused on the Jordan Downs development since, well, 2008. The $700 million redevelopment project proposes to completely overhaul the 1940s workers’ housing project that, like many other public housing projects in Watts were intended to be temporary. The project missed out for the second year in a row on a federal Housing and Urban Development grant that would have been the seed money to move the redesign forward.
The truth is Watts is deep in the belly of this metropolis and still at the bottom of the city’s priority list. So while the people of Watts take small strides, attracting sometimes big-named talent thanks in part to the neighborhood’s infamous disparity to provide insight and a little legitimacy, the world around Watts keeps turning, a few kids ride their handmade bicycles by the Watts Towers, and millions drive by every day on the Glenn Anderson freeway.