The Milieu of Watts: Imagination or Reality?

Three times I've gone to Watts, three different images in my consciousness.

I've had education in anthropology. Basically, I see people as humans subject at any time to streaks of idiocy or genius, villain or heroes, bad or good.

In areas of low-income residents, I always want to see the best in people. Folks are mostly good. So perhaps folks in Watts would mostly be good.

One of my favorite local rappers was from there. My godsister teaches there.

First time I went to Watts was to see the Towers. Right after the underwhelming re-opening of the Griffith Park observatory. The two ladies who accompanied me were scared shitless. I spent the half-hour we were there trying to convince them of the humanity and normality of the Watts Towers and the Watts milieu.

Second time I went to Watts was earlier this year to pick up my mom from some kind of nurse's convention at Jordan High School. I passed through some public housing that reminded of the departed TV show...The Wire. The school looked like an example of a police state school.

Yesterday comprised the third time I went to Watts in anticipation of the Day of the Drum Festival. This was by far the most nervous I had ever been in any area of Los Angeles.

The tension started with car problems or the fear that I was going to run out of gas. My tank was already lit up, and I felt a lag on the vehicle.

Phew! Thank god for that Central Ave. Shell Station off the 105.

Saw essentially the same brown and black people at the gas station that I might see in Panorama City, but this was Watts!

I parked really far from the festival site, about 4 or 5 blocks over, thinking that this was going to be like the Central Ave. Jazz Festival in South LA.

Big mistake (or not, depending on what you think I gained).

I ended up parking near another recreation Center over on 109th street. What was odd is that this recreation center with a basketball court, tennis courts, green open space, playground, was empty. Not a single soul in that public area. I could hear the drosophila getting their groove on.

This was very strange for a Saturday afternoon, least for me. I'm used to seeing coming from Bellevue Rec Center in Silver Lake, Panorama's Rec Center, or even Macon St. basketball in Glassell Park.


I walked down past a school, and the metrolink tracks. However, not before I went through another Watts oddity.

A group of teenagers and/or young adults sitting on the street with a foldable chair. One kid had a crowbar in hand and was wacking a tree.

Nothing wrong with a group of young adults hanging out in front of an empty school...if they had skateboards, I wouldn't have made a deal of anything.

Instead, they all looked on as the kid was taking hard swipes at the tree.

I didn't want to show my fear, so I walked right in the middle between the tree whacker and the group of teenagers. The guy could've wacked me with his crowbar if for no reason than for pure enjoyment or for crossing where I wasn't "supposed" to cross. I did this quickly and unconsciously.

A Latino guy passing me by muttered something to me to which I said I didn't know.

When I crossed through this area back from the Festival, I went across the street from the school.

Someone called out ominously "Do you want to die?" I looked forward and didn't see who said it.

"We, the People" Festival?

Last night I was looking forward to hitting up the We, the People Festival before heading off to Watts for its Jazz Festival.

I had been wanting to go for 2 years straight, but somehow, I was always distracted and had ended up missing both years.

This year I actually remembered seeing a poster for the Festival. This time, I wouldn't miss it --- it now had a seat in my synaptic claft. I would remember to go to it.

Just yesterday, I remembered.

Then I looked at its website.

The first thing that jumped at me when I glanced at the details of this event..."Tickets". That's strange. "Tickets"? To a free event? Maybe it's only 5 bucks?


Within an Usain Bolt millisecond, the second thing that jumped at me and broke my back was the numerical detail..."$45"...but free if you're under 9 years old!"

Quite the disorientation for me.

Progressive, down-for-the-people talk on the website. Yeah, they were in the hood in Watts. Yeah, they've got Self-Help Graphics as one of their nonprofit people! Yeah, they're giving away tickets to families! Toss in a few buzz words that give off that feeling that the space is meant to be critical, conscious, and about resistance, but if you want to experience that space...that'll be $45 at the door.


$45 is barely what I made in 6 hours of tv studio watching/temping.

$45 is 3 weeks of groceries or gas.

I'm kind of insulted by their misappropriation of the word "We, the People" because I might confuse them for people who aim to inclusive.

They really should make a slight edit of their title to reflect its targeted audience. We, the petit-bourgeoisie-People-who-could-afford-to-throw-away-45-dollars-for-a-mostly-narrowly-
auditory-experience-Festival. Seems more like a fundraiser than an actual democratic space that is being created...except the funds are going to "help Dre get a new testarossa Ferrari fund."

What I Didn't See at Park(ing) Day LA

The topic of Park(ing) Day in Los Angeles has been organized, blogged, and pictured to death by a circle of people who already seem to know each other. There are 70 posts in my google reader (which include Park(ing) Days in other metropolitan areas in the US). The crudest offenders: Streetsblog LA, Blogdowntown, LAist, and Curbed LA making sure to give me every single camera angle of every Park(ing) space.

No doubt that an event like this sorely, achingly needs exposure, but damn, multiple updates in one day is way too much for me.

It reminded me of how NBC spent about 79 hours covering some random 5.4 earthquake we had a few months ago, showing us videos, images, countless people on the street interviews, of "the experience."...of what ended up being a minor event with little damage and no one dead (damn!)

But, this is Parking Day, and I could understand people's enthusiasm bleeding over into quick and easy blog posts.

A very nice photo stream from Damien Newton at Streetsblog covering the occurrences at LACC/the Bicycle District/East Hollywood/my old neighborhood.

The Militant Angeleno supplemented his experience with a hilarious rant on Neighborhood Council old people.

CurbedLA's Dakota talking about the lack of Park(ing) spaces in the Valley, which I obviously agreed with, and headed down from the nothingness car-tropolis that is called the valley.

Per my actual first-hand, -foot, and -mind, experience...

I only went to Downtown LA, figuring that if I was going to take a car, I might as well be at the spot where most of it was happening. Like I always do when I head downtown, I plopped my car in the neighborhood hugging Echo Park, probably away a parking space from a resident. I'm a hypocrite and whatnot. Park(ing) Day and using all this fuel and polluting the environment through driving, I feel like if I told anyone that, they would've rounded up a mob and nailed me to a cross...mind you, a "green" cross complete with biodegradable nails.

I'll say more about my tendency to drive places later in a separate post.

Parking Day for me was about the "Park", the people-oriented public space, and the people, not so much the anti-automobile, ultra-pro transit and biking Park-ing. So I looked forward to seeing the different exhibits, how they used their "public space", and how they engaged people. I think it was as much a public awareness/outreach event as much as it was a artful exhibit.

On my trip downtown, I came, I saw, and I remember:

...the Community Redevelopment Agency of LA with their knitting circle and free juice, which I enjoyed primarily because they were actually quenching my thirst with some Minute Maid cherry limeade.

...the LA County Bicycle Coaltion and their symbolic bicycle rack.

...LAMP from Skid Row at the "Block party" with Coach Ron being the ubiquitous face in my forays into "that" side of downtown, next to the interactive

...EDAW LA, the people who propose turning part of the 101 freeway into a park, and their forest to the periphery of the LA Central Public Library,

...and an architecture firm's exhibit of smoky emissions from a vehicle.

Outside of this network of organizations and usual suspects behind any kind of urban living change, I kept wondering how many common, everyday people walking downtown actually noticed, took in, or even had an opinion about what was happening to their on-street parking spaces.

I gather that most of the folks wandering and working in downtown LA parked within private parking structure lots, so perhaps it didn't affect them in any kind of engagingly emotional, personal way. Families had places to go and probably figured that they weren't really invited to the fun, seeing that the people who organized it didn't look them, besides CRA/LA's Knitting circle.

I was an intentional attendee of Park(ing) Day LA in downtown, but I did not know how to find the different spaces.

While I enjoyed, I still felt like a few things were missing from making it a great outreach/awareness event. It seemed like it should've been funner, and more broadly inclusive.

A few of the things I noticed:

1) There weren't enough families.

Relative to the pictures from concurrent Parking Days in New York, it looks like families are actually participating!

Note the photos of kids playing connect four!

Note the kids on the turf!

Now turn the camera, back to LA: why such a paucity in Los Angeles?

Maybe a combination of:

...downtown being full of "working" people
...there being no real high-traffic parking spaces
...the free public spaces in downtown being inhabited by homeless folks loft construction combined with affordable housing demolitions affecting the homeless
...the lack of kid-friendly, happening places downtown. Re: bookstores, playgrounds, music stuff...less trips for families downtown

2) Going off this apparently adult-centered Parking Day, some of the green space was just utterly uninviting.

EDAW LA's space in particular was particularly disengaging.

Yes, greening things, is a theme, but not too much of it that you lose part of the point of why you build a park in an urban setting in the first place.

It's like they aimed to build a fortress of privatized greenery ala the Beverly Hills sidewalks rather than some kind of space that actually looked to include everyone, even a 24-year old brown-ish kid in a Habitat for Humanity shirt and straight-from the Phillippines basketball shorts.

I hope Park 101 wasn't supposed to emblematic of that space.

Greenery talk seems to have infiltrated LA discourse since at least the 70s, and yeah, hope it's not all talk.

But, it was just a one-day thing and overall their idea is nothing that I could knock.

3) It was really hard locating anything until I spotted the parking space with the flags, the cyclist, and the symbolically-polluting vehicle.

Thankfully, they provided a Map for other Parking Day LA events, but even with the map a lot of them were hard to find. Still afterward, I had gotten one of their maps, it still felt like a treasure hunt...I was forcefully, intentionally, frustratedly hunting down these spots.

They needed a lot more noise pollution.


There was a saxophonist on Third Street that was playing Mas Que Nada in loop. He would seem to fit the theme of people-oriented public space.

If cost was a concern, maybe just a simple iPod for every single space would've done something. It would've been a cost-effective quick way to draw attention.

4) On the idea of community-building, I would have worked with what was available in the community and on the streets already.

Ala a Historic Filipinotown get-down featuring the Blue Scholars and Bambu, formerly of the hip-hop duo Native Guns, get an ice cream truck, or cart at the block party, get some bacon-rolled hot dogs.

Basically, the party atmosphere liked enough of the "party." An environment where people could actually play. That kind of medium

The basketball court was a real nice touch by LAMP or Ron's organization, but no one was playing with it at the Block Party when I got there. The pool up in the Bicycle district and the Valley would've been pretty cool too. If they brought some kind of swingset, soccer goals, boxing, random art exhibits like they do in Silver Lake, I think the party would've smoked up the block a bit.

But what do I know, I was just a man walking the street.

Runnability in Urban Design

In urban planning and policy circles, much is discussed about a community's/metropolitan area's "walkability" and "bike-friendliness." They serve as indices for sustainable, smart economic growth communities. People who live in the sustainable, smart economic growth community will be able to get around easily and cheaply. With easy and cheap transportation, the main idea is that economic activity becomes easier to pursue. Beyond economic development, easy transportation means that people are able to make more connections to things, be it to friends in other neighborhoods, parks, museums, libraries, social activities.

Walkability, the ability to walk safely and conveniently to various destinations no more than say a mile radius (a guess).

Bikeability, the ability to use a medium speed vehicle on the road or side of the road to various destinations within a fifteen-mile radius (a guess).

Within the walkability checklist and the bike ability checklist are concerns about safety, and convenience.

Walkability and bike-friendliness, two concepts which desparately need to be integrated within transportation and development policy and infrastructure implementation if we are not only going to be ecologically-friendly and community-building, but also cost-saving.

However, those two concepts alone do not cover the broad range of transportational activities that can take place on a metropolitan street.

There's a third category that meshes the two concepts of walkability and bike-ability together because it needs elements of both, but it isn't as slow and limited in range as walking, nor is the transportation robust and/or fast enough to be acknowledged as vehicles on the road.

What am I talking about? People on scooters, the skateboarders, the rollerbladers, motor-wheelchaired, runners. Their concerns for safety and convenience should be looked at too!

Faster than walkers, but not quite fast enough for the road or the side of the road/bike lane.

They'll have the same concerns the walkers and bikers have: enough space on the sidewalk, whether or not there's good lighting in any given neighborhood to walk, a lack of debris and surface peculiarities, and if there are slow intersections, and a culture of one-minded fast-moving impatient drivers.

However, they offer a meaningfully distinct viewpoint on the use of sidewalks and streets for transportation. The "meaningfully distinct viewpoint" is expressed in their ability to give a broader overview and feel for the sidewalk connectivity within and between neighborhoods. They are more likely than the regular pedestrian to cover more distance.

What separates my point of view as a long-distance marathon runner from an average pedestrian and/or a biker is that I see more sidewalks on the whole than pedestrian and "feel" them more than a biker. While I can't speak as much about the bike lanes or the immediate safety of the sidewalks, I have a better sense of the type of sidewalk that can connect or disconnect districts, neighborhoods, community areas.

When I trained for the LA Marathon in 2007 and I was living in Silver Lake on Sunset, I knew that I would eventually have to make a long run. For me, that run was from my lil apartment in Silver Lake to UCLA.

A 10.5 mile run to UCLA, and a 10.5 mile run back. No big deal except this is what I face on Sunset before Beverly Glen. Try looking for a sidewalk.

One side.

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Other side.

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For about 100 meters, twice, the sidewalk is overrun by these untrimmed bushes, so essentially there is no sidewalk, leaving me on the road, constantly looking over my back to make sure of my visibility so that a car won't hit me.

Yeah, maybe I shouldn't run that route if I know there's no sidewalk there, but I'd come to expect sidewalks to be there just like any other regular person, I can't help but think if whoever owned the property there would just cut his goddamn bushes, and I like most people like to move in straight lines from point A to point B.

Alternate routes to UCLA on a sidewalk from Sunset are simply inconvenient, impractical, winding road detours that add to unnecessary mileage.

If there's no safe, straight-line road for me as a young, mobile runner, there's definitely no safe road for any pedestrian, and it's likely to be intolerable for a biker.

No runnability, no walkability, no bikeability on Sunset in Beverly Hills - unmaximized economic activity, minimized community connection, minimized people connection.

The Grand Entrance: The Man on the Street

I am 24 years old. I graduated 2 years ago from UCLA with a bachelor's degree in the field of Anthropology and a minor in the History of science and Medicine after transferring from UC-Santa Cruz. I've been planning to go to graduate school combining my interest in human evolution and acceptance of other cultures, my interest in public space, and my other interest in learning and memory in cognitive science, but that's on hold for now.

I come from a family that almost likes to live cheaply, at least from my mom. For 7 years we prided ourselves on living next to a 99 cents store. I was drilled on the importance of shopping at the local K-Mart, the "Thrifty", the Pic N Save, downtown at Santee, the Ross, the 99 Cents Store. Once I started driving and going places as a college student, that cheap living mindset still held sway: since I didn't make too much money, I had to learn all of the ways I could have fun without spending money.

Very often those activities occur(ed) at the beaches, the parks, some museums, and the libraries. I've gone on to appreciate each and every one of them. I've gone to various fairs, conferences, free music festivals, open mics, 5Ks, and lectures on topics from Justice for Filipino American Veterans festivals to the return of the Streetcar to Broadway to Graff art writings to lectures on the health care system whether they were at the S. Mark Taper Forum in the Central Library at LA, the Los Angeles historic theater in the Broadway District, that Elementary school on Temple St. across from Remy's on Temple, UCLA, or USC, the Huntington.

All events usually cost at the almost absolute maximum $30 dollars, if any charge at all.

For me to spend $30 on anything, it has to be extremely useful, extremely interesting, and/or something that I will be using for at least a year. I might do it for some foot-race or conference, however.

When I'm not chasing special events, which I'm usually not, unless it's really something I've never seen, I've spent and will probably spend a lot of time on the sidewalks, the parks, and the libraries --- the day-to-day public spaces that cost nothing, at least, directly, unless I incur a fine from the library.

The sidewalks connect to just about anything in LA. Almost anything, with quite a few exceptions. Most of them are quite narrow --- clearly acting as side thoughts and distractions for the car race tracks we call streets. I have almost 7 years of experience literally running the sidewalks and streets within central Los Angeles from Glendale all the way to UCLA. I am now just learning about the spatiality of the San Fernando Valley. Sidewalks are the connective strand from the industrial grit of Alameda Street to the hipster/residential areas of Eagle Rock. Using the network of sidewalks via running or walking, I can see the abandoned lots on Temple and Hoover to the Civic Center in downtown to the Saks Fifth Avenue on Wilshire.

Parks --- pocket park, or Griffith Park, I like em, usually to play some combination of soccer, basketball, or maybe even both at the same time. Free parking, free water, free to do almost anything less you want to smoke or stay overnight. I've gotten the chance to prove my leadership and mentorship abilities just by interacting with kids who like playing soccer. If there is a basketball court like the one in Bellevue Park in Silver Lake or the newly opened Macon St. Park in Glassell Park, it's where I usually bond with other people of my sex and get to sticking balls in a few holes.

Libraries --- a physical hub for my informational needs and mental gymnastics until I become affiliated with a university or college. The Central Library is the main spot's the new black, or at least I'd try and fabricate that reality. I don't "need" "7th and Fig", or Olvera Street or Little Tokyo, which all have good things going on, but if you're looking for free AND mind-expanding, well, the Central Library it is.

Thus my personal interest, which I hope will integrate with a professional career, in public spaces in Los Angeles.

This blog will aim to talk about the public space in the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County from my point of view as a low-income, middle-class family Filipino-American college graduate, young adult runner, driver, library patron, basketball player, soccer player, footbasketball player, fairgoer, lecture/seminar attendee, observer, integrating other points of view from the Ivory towers of academia, to the man on the street.