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Reviving Leimert Park: The People Street Petition

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By Lamarana Diallo

South Los Angeles – Leimert Park is known as the African-American culturally center of Los Angeles but not many Angelenos know the area.

Leimert Park is a hidden in South Los Angeles, a region known for crime and danger.

With the installation of the new metro line that will make a stop in Leimert Park Village, community leaders are hoping to revive Leimert Park and bring the area back to roots.

“We want to create new buzz and excitement for Leimert Park . . . since the 60s it has been the center for music, arts, Jazz and the Blues,” said Alison Kendall of Kendall Planning.

Kendall along with Sherri Franklin of the Urban Design Center, Ben Caldwell of the KAOS Network and USC Professor François Bar worked together to apply for a People Street Plaza on 43rd Place from Degnan to Leimert Blvd.

The People Street is a program created by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. The program helps communities turn open spaces into parking lots, plaza’s or bike corals.

“Closing of the street would help facilitate pedestrian oriented activities and cultural activities throughout the week and not just weekends,” said Franklin.

Leimert Park hosts an art walk on every last Sunday of the month. To accommodate the event, organizers must close off 43rd Place from Degnan to Leimert Blvd because the Leimert Park Village Park is too small.

Kendall argues that since “the section of the street is already closed off for the art walk” and other events in Leimert Park, it would be easier to have a people street plaza year round so there is no need to go through the long process of getting “permission all the time.”

43rd Place from Degnan to Leimert Blvd is a wide street that sits in between the small park and the historic Vision Theater. The space is big enough to convert into a plaza.

The plaza would offer a performance space for the community to gather, for children to play, and host events such as yoga, capoeira, zumba, outdoor galleries and much more.

There are already two people streets in Los Angeles. One is the Cowardly Lion fountain in Culver City and the other is the Green Triangle in Silver Lake. The proposed Leimert Park people street will be similar to the Green Triangle in Silver Lake but with a twist said Franklin.

“We are excited about including cultural elements in the design.”

On March 30th, the KAOS Network along with Bar’s USC class hosted a pop-up plaza, giving community members a glimpse of what would happen if Leimert Park had a people street plaza.

Franklin, Kendall, Bar and Caldwell began the application process in March of 2014 and rallied residents behind the plan through a petition. So far, the petition has more than 100 signatures.

“I’m so down for it especially if it helps the community at large and people get to know more about Leimert Park,” said Fiashyo, who grew up in Leimert Park.

With a smile on her face, Fiashyo described what Leimert Park was when she was a child, “We were out in the streets, there were festivals and so much going on. Now, many businesses have closed and the homeless have taken over the park.”

Fiashyo believes the people street plaza will help bring Leimert Park back to what it once was, a place flourishing in African-American arts, music and culture.

Peach, who has owned a gift shop in the Village for the past three years, echoed similar sentiments.

“I think it’s great. It will bring more people back to the village and people will see that its becoming haven.”

The petition for the plaza comes on the heels of many changes happening in Leimert Park due to the new metro line stop.

“There is a master plan in place for Leimert Park Village to get more businesses and more people to come into the neighborhood,” said Franklin.

The master plan is known to stakeholders in the community as the 20/20 Vision Initiative, which aims to market Leimert Park to wider audience. New additions to Leimert Park include the Papillion Gallery, artist Mark Bradford is creating a community art space and the historic Vision Theater is under renovations.

The hope is with all the changes and new additions, Leimert Park will be a tourist destination for people to linger and enjoy.

Many residents are excited about the proposed people street but some, especially business owners, are too keen on the idea.

“You need cars coming in. Established businesses don’t make it on just foot traffic. We need automobile traffic. It’s BS because people drive more out here than they walk,” said Menk who owns a street vending business right in front of 43rd Place and Leimert Blvd.

Jane, who owns a tailor shop across the street from the Leimert Park Village Park, agreed with Menk.

“It’s not fair for people who have shops. Once a week is okay but that’s it. It’s an inconvenience to customers driving and we lose money.” Jane’s, who has been in business for 27 years in Leimert Park, says not many people whom live close by enjoy the festivities that happen.

“A lot of people don’t like it. I can’t sleep and the senior citizens in the home down the block can’t sleep because the drums too noisy.”

It is not yet certain whether Leimert Park will have a people street plaza. Franklin and the rest of the team submitted the application on April 29th to the Department of Transportation and it’s now a waiting game.