Mon, Jul

Leimert Park, Mass Transit, Gentrification, and Racialism: No Good Answers, Only Lost Dreams

THE DOCTOR IS IN - This is a challenging piece for me to address and write, because I am an outsider in that I am a Caucasian Westsider.

I am also, however, one of those Expo Line advocates who wanted to reach out to my Mid-City and Downtown neighbors to both bring our communities (geographic and racial) together and enhance the lives of Angelenos of all socioeconomic classes and ethnicities. 

I equally wanted a north-south counterpart to the east-west Exposition Light Rail Line, and that north-south light rail line became the Crenshaw-LAX Line. Metro can, in its bonehead and citizen/taxpayer-oblivious manner, call these lines whatever letters or numbers they want, but their names can and should remain the same for all those residents who fought for them. 

(Of course, the onset of COVID-19, shifting priorities of commuters, and allowing rapid transit to be a magnet for homeless individuals and criminal activity has destroyed the hopes and dreams of many a transportation/transit advocate to make L.A. the 21st-Century transportation model...but that's quite a few other stories and topics...) 

Gentrification and racial changes are all part of life, and while I am not a fan of any Great Replacement conspiracy theories, the concept of accidental or not-so-accidental racial or socioeconomic replacements is a part of history and reality. 

If you, Friend Reader, don't believe that last paragraph, just talk to any Native American. 

Furthermore, just talk to any Long Beach past or current resident (like yours truly) who remembers that Downtown Long Beach used to be very poor and blighted...but is now tony and wealthy at the expense of a small army of displaced lower socioeconomic human beings.  

Ask any Southern California resident who has seen Compton and Inglewood turn from white to black to brown in its composition...he or she will tell you how things have changed--some changes for the better, perhaps, and some changes for the not-so-better, depending on who you speak to. 

And ask any Harlem historian or resident who is aware of the white-Jewish, and then-black, and then/now-white wealthy hipster conversions of that amazing region of America. Part of that most recent conversion chain is understandable, and part of that is just downright tragic. 

(Since I am not a fan of the trust-fund-baby-hipster-work-from-home-money-inheriting-don't-give-a-damn-about-anyone-but-themselves-but-who-masks-and-fools-themselves-as-caring-dogooders group of wealthy white individuals dominating the wealthy elites and associated power structure of the United States, count me in as someone who views Harlem's changes as just horrible.) 

Enter Leimert Park and the Crenshaw Blvd. Corridor, which is supposed to have been the focus of a Metro Crenshaw-LAX Line to reinvigorate the economic future of a traditionally-black and economically-disadvantaged region.  

Rather than connect LAX with Downtown L.A. and Union Station with a direct straight shot via the BNSF rail right-of-way, Crenshaw Blvd. was chosen as the route to divert rail riders to/from Downtown and the Expo Line.  

A considerable amount of funds and effort were made to grade-separate (elevate above or dig below street level) the Crenshaw-LAX line around Leimert Park, and to a large degree it was to respect the unique and historic black cultural hub of that region.  

Ditto for other regions of the Crenshaw Blvd. light rail line routing. 

But, as of 2022, we now have: 

1) A Leimert Park that is being attacked culturally, and displaced racially, by gentrification that is sweeping Southern California. 

2) A Leimert Park that is being fought for by black residents against said gentrification with all the vigor and fury displayed when it fought for grade separation. 

3) A light rail line with a central piece of preserving and invigorating an economically-troubled black region that is increasingly no longer poor and black.  

And so what NOW? 

1) Fortunately, the Crenshaw Blvd-LAX light rail line makes oodles more sense when it connects to the Wilshire Subway as a north-south light rail line, but the optics of it all are pretty awful. 

2) When the Crenshaw-LAX light rail line is completed to connect to the Expo Line, requiring a one-stop displacement of Downtown- or LAX- seeking riders and tourists, many will again anguish over and wonder what the hell we were all doing letting that Downtown/LAX/Direct connection become a bikeway between Inglewood, the Blue Line, Downtown L.A., and Union Station. 

3) We will again wonder why self-proclaimed bike advocates who represent the bicycle community (they don't) have been allowed to take over public property and common sense. 

4) The black community will be displaced yet again by outsider, white, wealthy, and connected activists who proclaim they're doing God's work and a Green Environmental Vision when, in fact, they worship only the God of their own self-absorption and the Green of money. 

So...good luck to all. Not a fan of racialism and identify politics, but I am also not a fan of crushing ordinary Joe/Jane American (of any color or socioeconomic background). 

No good answers, I suppose, but the lost dreams shouldn't be forgotten altogether.  

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D, is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud husband and father to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. He was termed out of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC) twice after two stints as a Board member for 9, years and is also a Board member of the Westside Village Homeowners Association. He previously co-chaired the MVCC Outreach, Planning, and Transportation/Infrastructure Committees for 10 years. He was previously co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee, the grassroots Friends of the Green Line (which focused on a Green Line/LAX connection), and the nonprofit Transit Coalition His latest project is his fictional online book entitled The Unforgotten Tales of Middle-Earth and can be reached at [email protected]. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)