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This week marked a grim anniversary for my hometown of Los Angeles. Beginning on April 29, 1992, the city erupted in anger and fire for several days after a Simi Valley jury acquitted four LAPD officers in the beating of unarmed African-American motorist Rodney King.

Our local media is filled with stories of reporters, community leaders and residents remembering where they were and how they reacted when the civil unrest unfolded. I can't share in those stories, because I wasn't in L.A. at the time. I was a student at UC Berkeley, and I discovered that my hometown was burning when the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle landed at my dorm room door. Like millions across the country and the world, I could only watch - horrified - on my television from afar.

The mostly black, middle-class neighborhood where I grew up is just a few miles west of where the flashpoint - the infamous corner of Florence and Normandie - occurred. My mother was working as a nursing supervisor at a county clinic right in the heart of South-Central L.A., as the area was then known. Fortunately, she got home safely.  

Some things have changed since the unrest opened up racial and class wounds caused by decades of de-facto segregation, police brutality, job losses and social neglect. South-Central L.A. was officially renamed South Los Angeles, presumably to erase the stigma associated with the former name. The Los Angeles Police Department has over the years made efforts to improve relations with people of color in the community. South L.A., once predominantly African-American, is now mostly Latino.

However, some things haven't changed. I moved back to my childhood home to look for work after several years writing for newspapers in central California. Unfortunately, the economic situation in South L.A. is worse than it was 20 years ago. Unemployment in the entire city is high - just below 12%. L.A. is economically segregated now more than ever. Drive from West L.A. to South L.A. and you'll go from eye-popping wealth to grinding poverty. After the unrest, politicians made grandiose promises to rebuild South L.A. But many of those promises proved hollow. South L.A. is still chronically underdeveloped and dotted with empty, weedy lots - some next to my neighborhood.

Yet, there's reason to hope. The decades-long abandoned buildings on the blighted lot a couple of blocks from my house are finally being demolished, and hopefully, development will begin there soon. The movie theater and shopping mall across the street from that lot was recently renovated. In January, the first fine-dining restaurant since probably when I was a kid opened down the street. And a long-awaited east-west light rail line - the first in 50 years - has just opened in South L.A. The new Expo Line now links downtown to Culver City in the west and will eventually reach Santa Monica in four years. I took the Expo on a round trip to downtown on its inaugural weekend. Service was free and celebrations were held along the route. The train was packed with excited people. Finally, South L.A. had something to celebrate. It feels a little less cut off from the rest of Los Angeles. With the exception of the island of wealth that is the University of Southern California, most of the area along the Expo route is poor and blighted. New transit hubs often attract economic development. Will South L.A. benefit or will another 20 years pass without much progress?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (3+ / 0-)

    "Behind every great fortune is a great crime." - Honore de Balzac

    by mooremusings on Wed May 02, 2012 at 03:13:44 PM PDT

  •  Well, when I walked out on my balcony (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    uciguy30

    on Los Feliz Blvd, I could smell the smoke from the fires the riots going on around Santa Monica and Vermont had started.  I think we've all learned a lot since then, but I'll tell you that I haven't spent any time reading reminiscences.

    Where did you grow up?  I ask because for the past three semesters I've taught a class at Southwest College, about half a mile west of Normandie and about two miles south of Florence, and I have taken a bus up Western Avenue to the Hollywood/Western Red Line Station to get home.  It sounds like you're in the Crenshaw district, which is in, well, significantly better shape than Western south of the Expo line. I hope the Expo line works to help the neighborhoods it passes through.

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Wed May 02, 2012 at 03:47:29 PM PDT

    •  I live in View Park (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dave in Northridge

      just west of Crenshaw. It's funny, whenever I tell people I live in View Park, even people who have lived in L.A. many years, they've never heard of it.

      "Behind every great fortune is a great crime." - Honore de Balzac

      by mooremusings on Wed May 02, 2012 at 05:00:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I've driven up Hawthorne and La Brea (0+ / 0-)

        from the 405 to Fairfax and Wilshire, and I know where View Park is because of that (I was doing some freelance work in Irvine, and I went down the day before Thanksgiving forgetting that the 405 took me past THREE airports),  It was an interesting drive.  

        -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

        by Dave in Northridge on Wed May 02, 2012 at 05:11:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I live and work in South LA (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dave in Northridge, uciguy30

    I wasn't here for the riots either. Clearly, there are still a lot of challenges, but it's an exciting time for South LA in my opinion. The Expo Line is open, and being expanded. There's a new Crenshaw Line in the works that will go south from the Expo Line to the airport. The MLK hospital is being rebuilt and reopened. Stuff like the Post and Beam and other recent improvements to the mall.

    I've lived near Rodeo and La Brea for ten years, and the changes are subtle but real. The violence in "the Jungle" has greatly dissipated, and my sub-neighborhood (Village Green) has been inundated in the last few years with affluent, educated young couples having kids.

    There's still a real problem with unemployment and economic development. We could really use better leadership at the city to get stuff like Marlton Square moving. That is a horrible eyesore that should and could instead by a source of jobs and business opportunity, or at least a nice park!

    But we've come a long ways since 1992.

    •  I would love (0+ / 0-)

      to see an urban park in Marlton Square, especially since we have such a dearth of green space in South L.A. As for the Crenshaw Line, it's currently tied up in litigation. Some black South L.A. residents fear it could negatively impact homes and businesses if part of the route isn't built underground. I hope that's settled soon.

      I also should have mentioned that my family and I have noticed an uptick in white people frequenting and even moving into the neighborhood. Perhaps there are people moving in who are tired of living in the suburbs so far away from anything. I hope with more young, affluent people moving in, we'll get more and improved services.  

      "Behind every great fortune is a great crime." - Honore de Balzac

      by mooremusings on Wed May 02, 2012 at 05:11:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't think it's "tied up in litigation" (0+ / 0-)

        We're zeroing in dangerously close to revealing my personal identity here, but I was involved in the litigation over the Expo line about many of the same issues. There might be (and should be) some wrangling over how much should be underground versus on the surface, and other more detailed safety issues, but I don't think it's not going to impact whether it gets built, and probably not even the timeline.

        And yeah, young, affluent people are moving in all around Leimert Park, View Park, Baldwin Hills, etc. I think it's partly that people don't want to live in far out suburbs, but also people are being priced out of places like Culver City and the Fairfax District, and we're next door.

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