By Dennis J. Freeman
CRENSHAW — Residents were given a preview of what a new and revitalized Crenshaw Boulevard will look like once the Crenshaw Rail Line construction is completed Dec. 8.
Eighth District City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson invited residents, local elected officials and other dignitaries to look at renderings and her planners discuss what is in store for the South Los Angeles thoroughfare once construction ends.
The on-site preview was held atop the parking lot at the Baldwin Hill Crenshaw Plaza with Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, former Inglewood Mayor Danny Tabor, and Black Lives Matter Los Angeles head Melina Abdullah among those attending the Destination Crenshaw event.
The Destination Crenshaw project is about re-shaping and preserving the culture of black Angelenos in and around the Crenshaw community, including Leimert Park. Destination Crenshaw is a 1.3-mile stretch of Crenshaw Boulevard that will highlight the art, culture and historical and contemporary contributions of black Americans in the area. That area will be from 48th to 60th streets, which will be adjunct to the Crenshaw/Los Angeles Airport (LAX) Rail Line.
The “Our Mighty Contribution” mural at Crenshaw and 50th Street, recently defaced by swastikas drawn on the heads of four women, will be the centerpiece of Destination Crenshaw, which also will feature acclaimed black local artists, 100 unique art installations as well as a dozen African-American themed pocket parks and colorful street landscaping.
The Destination Crenshaw project is slated to begin sometime in 2019 with its official opening in the spring of 2020.
“This is a sneak preview of the Destination Crenshaw project to people who have either been involved as supporters or leaders in the community, and we’re laying out what we want to do to Crenshaw to: one, restore the community once the train comes through, but also make sure this a community that’s at the heart of the African-American experience on the West Coast as it has been for generations,” Harris-Dawson said.
There is one caveat, though. With all the new building and construction going on in the area, there is a concern among residents that this is just another layer of the gentrification process that has begun in the area. With more whites or ethnic groups moving into the area, employment, housing and a treasured way of life is being threatened by the new wave of community and citywide revamping.
Harris-Dawson addressed those concerns.
“The main concerns from residents is that as the community improves that we get driven out,” Harris-Dawson said. “I think what we hope will happen is that by putting down landmarks, putting down our story, laying out our program that when people come to the community they understand they’re coming to be a part of what we’ve built as opposed to coming to wipe the slate clean and making it in their own image.”
Tabor, who grew up in the Crenshaw district, said he is impressed with what Councilman Harris-Dawson is bringing to the community.
“The councilman and the team of folks that came together to create this vision for what Crenshaw could become, took what people were describing as a deficit — with the train running — and turned it into a positive,” Tabor said. “They turned it, not into a positive, but to a cultural icon for the community that I grew up in … in the Crenshaw area. To see how they’re staging and organizing it to reflect both its past and its future, is extremely exciting. “Marqueece Harris-Dawson is to be complimented and held high for having the vision and the courage to step out on this limb,” Tabor added.
Regarding the prospect of gentrification, Tabor was blunt in his assessment of the situation as he sees it.
“Gentrification can’t occur if you don’t sell or if you sell strategically,” Tabor said. “In this community, what the councilman has done is create a vision for us to see where we can buy or where we can barter and trade to be part of the future. That’s our challenge.
“We can’t just stand around and worry about what other people are doing. We have to have our own plan and initiate a plan that represents our interests.”