Welcome to our new Chair, Allison Lynch!
Please join us in welcoming Allison Lynch as ULI-LA's new District Council Chair!
On Wednesday, July 28th, 81 registrants attended the ULI-LA StimULI event Connection Before Construction – How Destination Crenshaw Will Change Community Engagement. Jason Foster, President and Chief Operating Officer of Destination Crenshaw, joined Drake Dillard (Perkins&Will) and Christopher Hawthorne (City of Los Angeles Office of Economic Development) in a conversation moderated by Architecture Journalist, Frances Anderton, to discuss Destination Crenshaw — a transformative infrastructure project that plans to boost the Crenshaw community through economic development, job creation, and environmental healing, while elevating Black art and culture.
Frances Anderton, Architecture Journalist, NPR, delves into the truly authentic community engagement strategy surrounding the Destination Crenshaw development that is successfully bridging the history and culture of the neighborhood with the expansion of the Metro LAX/Crenshaw Line. Scheduled to open in Fall 2022, Destination Crenshaw will be the place to experience the most dynamic expression of Black American culture in the United States. A 1.3-mile stretch of Crenshaw Boulevard is being transformed from an area that has long deserved economic investment and strategic urban planning, into a thriving commercial corridor linked by architecturally stunning community spaces and pocket parks, hundreds of newly planted trees, and over 100 commissioned works of art.
The project stemmed from the controversial decision to locate the Metro LAX/Crenshaw Line above ground, bifurcating an essential commercial corridor and neighborhood, while removing hundreds of trees and parking spaces in a black community that was all too familiar with being displaced and disrespected.
Jason Foster, President and COO, Destination Crenshaw, explains the reasons this project came to be and how the community engagement benefits the residents and businesses by creating galleries and parks with the most dynamic expression of black life in this country. This project shows that it’s not simply an investment of money, but also investments of time and love that create “community” where folks want to live, work, play and stay.
The goal of the community outreach was designed to eliminate what typically makes people fearful of development due to the history of cultural erasure, redlining, and unfair practices. In 2011 there was a decision to invest $2 billion in grade level light rail that threatened the residents and neighborhoods in one of the largest intact black communities, including over 40 black-owned businesses, west of Chicago. Considering the fear Metro expansion created, it was important to emphasize the potential for long term benefits. Job creation, workforce development, building gathering places, and adding diverse shops and restaurants, all illustrate how Destination Crenshaw connects the community, not divides or displaces it, as historically occurred.
Destination Crenshaw is an outdoor art and cultural experience that includes pocket parks, Public art Installations featuring more than 100 local artists, and 12 unapologetically black narratives that tie the Crenshaw community’s history to its future as a neighborhood. Even as construction continues, local art is highlighted on construction barricades through DC’s mini-mural contest to engage and pay local artists to display their work that will create excitement about the future of the Destination Crenshaw project.
The neighborhood conversations addressed the negative effects of public investment by focusing on stabilizing a community and providing workforce development, in the form of jobs and training with a contracted 70% local hire goal with general contractors, PCL Inc.t. This illustrated how development can stabilize and stimulate a community, rather than tear it down.
It was critical to have honest conversations with community members and make sure to listen to the dissenters. Yes, this is a construction project, and it will change things, but there is a goal to ensure that you benefit from those changes. Job creation, workforce training, public art commissions, and beatification, are all benefits of the project. Developing a sustainable engagement model helps residents stay informed about changes so they better understand the process and continue to have input that will shape future outcomes, as well.
Destination Crenshaw is a 501C-3 that will continue to serve the community after the project is built. Outside of the project, additional services that are being addressed today include Covid-19 response and assistance to the 43 businesses along the corridor. There are ongoing maintenance and operations expenses being created, as well as arts, educational, and cultural programming in development. The need for continued Public and Private investment will really make Destination Crenshaw a model for impeccable upkeep and community building. One way to ensure future investment and equitable development is through policy measures like tax increment financing or an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (EIFD) which will preserve the community. The development community will play a major role in this, if possible.
Drake Dillard, Architect, Senior Project Manager, Perkins&Will, and a resident of the Crenshaw District led by discussing the importance of a team. Creating a team was the first step which included a paid Advisory Council, Perkins & Will staff, and the City Council District, made up of community members, young artists, historians, and landscape architects. Paying the Advisory Committee really showed them that their opinions and input on the project were valued. Treating them with love and respect paid off significantly in their overall commitment to the project.
After much discussion the DC Community Advisory Council and greater team agreed that the North African Star Grass would be the unifying theme for the project. It’s root system grows both vertically and horizontally and sprouts above ground in different segments. This translated into an important reminder of the path of global migration during African American history and the resilience of Black people in the face of violence and racism, showing how the roots are still able to flourish and spread.
To further expand the experience for people throughout the corridor, the project will be divided into four zones or themes – Improvisation, Firsts, Dreams, Togetherness.
Destination Crenshaw is divided into four zones
Improvisation – near the Nipsey Hussle store, focuses on arts, entertainment, and creativity.
Firsts – honors history by highlighting the ingenuity of the residents, Paul Williams the first black architect, the first black mayor, and more.
Dreams – is next to Crenshaw High School highlighting education and youth’s dreams about their futures.
Togetherness – culminates at Leimert Park, where people come together in a beautiful environment to celebrate, as well as protest as a community.
All of the public art and exhibition components in each node will align with the greater theme and connect the corridor in a continuous message that celebrates the Crenshaw community for residents and visitors alike.
The shade structures and black granite pavement design mimics the North African Star grass and forms a root-like network that provides cohesion to each of the four zones and leads you down Crenshaw to view the outdoor gallery and visit the parks. The lush landscape will consist of more than 800 trees.
As a long-time resident of the area, Mr. Dillard was intimately aware of the diverse voices in the community made up of affluent and influential black residents in Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park, and Crenshaw areas of Los Angeles. Although there are still some non-supporters, he believes that through their extensive outreach, much of the community is embracing Destination Crenshaw as their own.
Christopher Hawthorne, Chief Design Officer, City of LA, discussed how the success of Destination Crenshaw is already helping to shape future policy and projects and how these types of projects are not just about community engagement but also consider the relationship between urban design and community aspiration.
Mr. Hawthorne convened the LA Mayor’s Office Civic Memory Working Group, which started in 2018 from a broader conversation about the nation’s Confederate monuments and how that was relevant to Los Angeles’ unique history. This group is made up of 40 historians, architects, designers, art curators, community leaders, indigenous elders, and others to expand the conversation of LA’s history and ultimately produce policy recommendations that address the whitewashing and cultural erasure challenges being faced. There was very strong consensus that the city needed to start being the facilitator of community expression, civic memory, and history through engaging more community groups in the conversation to determine next steps and moments in history that need to be memorialized. Following are three projects that are based on the outcomes.
Through the broader outreach it was determined that an Anti-Chinese Massacre memorial needed to be erected to remind Angelinos that hate should not consume us, but rather bring us together and create a sense of belonging. The memorial is scheduled to be commemorated on the 150th Anniversary of this heinous event, Oct. 24, 2021.
Another project that came out of the Civic Memory Working Group is the Low-Rise Housing Design Challenge. Low-Rise single-family neighborhoods make up 80% of the developable residential land in LA. Currently land use and zoning policy is not sustainable for the future due to the city’s history of redlining and racist lending practices that created wealth gaps as well as the current and future need to locate closer to jobs and transit. There are legitimate concerns about opening neighborhoods to development and potential displacement due to gentrification. The need for updated policy that honors the rich culture of the neighborhoods, revealed the opportunity to look at ways to generate fresh new ideas without using old tactics.
The City started by asking community members what they want instead of starting with the architect’s vision. Questions revolved around neighborhood expectations, concerns, and aspirations. Listening Sessions were conducted on five topics with videos created for the design entrants to use in formulating their Low-Rise Housing Design. This format was responsible for producing entries that truly connected to the fabric of the community.
Because of the success of this design competition, conversations are now happening within the City to help inform community plans and housing elements of the General Plan with design and process updates which are scheduled to be concluded by the end of 2021.
100-Acre Partnership at Taylor Yard – will create the largest continuous open space along the Los Angeles River. This project evolved from community and stakeholder feedback regarding cohesive planning of restored public open space at the former site of the Taylor Yard rail site and adjacent properties along the LA River. The Partnership protects the cultural richness of the surrounding communities reflecting the aspirations and concerns of the residents. As community outreach progressed there was more of a concern about the potential pressures of growth versus the design of the new amenities. Concerns surrounded housing affordability, gentrification, and mobility in surrounding neighborhoods, which spurred a new project called the Community Taylor Yard Equity Strategy (Community TYES). Community TYES will develop strategies to address issues surrounding housing, gentrification, traffic, and legacy business concerns.
Successful Community Engagement includes:
For more information on the Destination Crenshaw project, visit DestinationCrenshaw.la.