An article in the LA Times last week has been sitting uncomfortably in my inbox, and while it isn’t specifically related to Northeast Los Angeles, I’m troubled at the precedent it sets for our neighborhood. LA Gang Tours, a nonprofit, will lead bus tours beginning in January from the Los Angeles River through South Los Angeles for tourists or locals interested in the exact opposite of the Hollywood-based stars’ homes tours. Led by a reformed Florencia 13 member, the tour has brokered an understanding with local gangs and plans to showcase the areas criminal history. (Crips, Bloods, and 18th Street oh my!) While the tour’s backers seem to have the best of intentions, I’m personally very uncomfortable with turning the inner-city into a zoo where the bourgeois and foreigners can project their romanticized images of Colors, Boyz n the Hood, and Training Day. In Rio de Janeiro, tourists can pay to take a bus ride through the favelas, exoticized in 2002′s City of God. While no neighborhood in Los Angeles approaches that level of crime and poverty, the spirit of gawking at the poor goes back at least to tours of London’s Eastenders at the beginning of the 19th century, and I worry that the motivation for those who would pay for these tours is not born of philanthropy or education. Instead, I imagine customers signing up for a sense of adventure and urban exploration that ends regaling his or her friends with stories of surviving the ‘hood over PBRs that night. (Don’t believe me? Just read any post about going to East Los Angeles on Yelp.) LA Gang Tours is reportedly already looking to expand their trips to include Westlake, which leads to my concern that Highland Park, Glassell Park, and Cypress Park won’t be far behind. If the residents of South L.A. think that these tours will bring an influx of jobs, money, and knowledge into their community, then it’s not my business to tell them what is in their best interest. However, I will be justifiably furious if open-topped vans start cruising down my street oohing and aahing over murder scenes and gang tags. (“HxP means Highland Park!”)
Fortunately, I have a suggestion for those who want to help those in need without exploiting or stigmatizing the poor as something “other”. This Wednesday, a bevy of charity groups are hosting a Glassell Park Neighborhood Posada from 4-6 PM at Juntos Park, 3145 Drew Street. Traditionally, a Posada involves viewing nativity scenes but since the flyer wishes us “Happy Holidays”, and various city departments are sponsoring the event, I’m not sure how much religious imagery to expect in a public park. Still, kids can get free piñatas, adults can drink free champurrado, and if you’re so inclined, you can find a way to get involved in gang-prevention and social work without stigmatizing the poor. You’re even allowed to get a little thrill from being in the barrio.
How quaint... (Courtesty franklinhills.org)
In the past, we’ve lobbied that readers submit stories to us as a preventative against the occasional digital doldrums our blog runs into. In this case, the Bike Oven was nice enough to send us a press release concerning a meeting tomorrow at Ramona Hall about the Los Angeles Bike Plan. I write this with the hopes that it will encourage others to submit us stories of note. Also, I don’t want to muddy the waters and pretend to have done work that we didn’t do. (Not that any media outlets would simply go to press with unresearched press releases…)
Gas prices are up, we’re fat, and with the exception of a few neighborhoods (like ours) Los Angeles has expansive flat areas ideal for commuting on bicycles. Of course the biking infrastructure in our city largely consists of a few painted lines that sometimes take you where you want to go. Worse still are drivers who range from oblivious to homicidal.
Fortunately, some Angelenos see the unsustainability in the endless widening of streets and building of freeways. The Los Angeles Bike Plan is an exhaustive study of existing bike infrastructure, and identifies potential improvements that might serve to better connect a city that can seem so balkanized by our massive freeway system. Northeast Los Angeles looks to gain little of note with on exception: The current bike lane in the Arroyo Seco that stretches from York to Avenue 52 would be extended south to connect with the Los Angeles River and continue as far south as San Pedro (think of it as the 110 for bicycles). Besides this intriguing possibility, our area is most likely to receive a modest increase in bike lanes denoted by simple signage and/or lane stripes.
One issue I would like to see solved is Metro’s current bike policy that really discourages commuting via bicycle and bus/rail. Buses only accommodate two bikes at a time while the rail system’s rules prohibit bikes in the cars during commuting hours in the directions most people need to go. (Towards downtown in the morning, and away in the afternoon.) I’ve been told that 6-7 miles is as far as most people are likely to commute via bicycle on a regular basis. For those of us who work farther away, being able to get downtown or to Hollywood with our bikes would be a very tempting alternative to sitting in traffic.
Our site has been on one of our infrequent hiatuses recently that I apologize for without being able to promise it won’t happen again soon. We have some “Beyond Northeast” posts forthcoming, but felt that after two weeks of silence we owed you something local. Although there are always plenty of tragedies to cynically exploit in a city as big as Los Angeles, we’ve decided to give you something to feel good about by passing along all local winners in LA Weekly’s Best of Los Angeles 2009. Enjoy!
Best Ethnic Deli Counter: Super King Market in Glassell Park
Best Vintage Musical Instrument Store: Future Music in Highland Park
Best Unkown Bookstore: Read in Eagle Rock
Best Caterer for these Troubled Times: Jennie Cooks Catering in Glassell Park
Best New Place for Live Music: Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock
Best Coffee Shop for Musicians: Cafe de Leche in Highland Park
Also, to avoid uploading a second LA Weekly post in the same day, Jonathan Gold (who I drove past on my commute to work this morning) confirms his love for Casa Bianca.