CONNECTING PEOPLE TO IDEAS AND TO EACH OTHER
CONNECTING PEOPLE TO IDEAS AND TO EACH OTHER
South Los Angeles: Can the Site of America's Worst Modern Riots Save an Entire City?, is a special project of Zócalo Public Square and the California Wellness Foundation.

South L.A. Doesn't Need Saving

Instead, the Area Could Be a Savior to a California That's Pushing out Its Working Class

“How can we save South Los Angeles?” is a tired question. It’s an artifact of previous decades when the region formerly called South Central was known by its reputation for crime, gangs, poverty, racial conflict, and the 1992 riots, the deadliest American urban uprising since the Civil War.

So let’s retire the old query, and turn it upside down to pose a new and urgent question: How can South Los Angeles save us?

South L.A. is no longer a place apart. Today, it sits in the center of the California story, embodying some of our greatest possibilities and our greatest …

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Who Gets to Represent a Richer South L.A.?

A Place of Possibility Shouldn’t Remain a Pawn of the Establishment

You can see it in the houses, in the development, in the grocery stores finally arriving, in the people who—as I did several years ago—decided to stay. There’s a real sense of unity and possibility. It can feel a little (dare I say) like Brooklyn, with the renaissance in some neighborhoods, …

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When the World Came to My South L.A. Door

Amazon Is Nothing New, in the 1930s and ‘40s Salesmen Delivered Everything From Fresh Doughnuts to Steel Guitars

I remember most clearly the things that aren’t here anymore, the things that I saw as a child in our neighborhood in South Los Angeles. …

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The Little Dry Cleaning Shop Around the Corner

When I Took Over My Family's Business on South Central Avenue in 1994 I Had Two Struggles: The Business and South L.A.

When the property owners on historic South Central Avenue (from Washington Boulevard to Vernon Avenue) started one of the first …

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How Watts Provided the Foundation for a Family's Rise in America

Baseball, Small Business, and Legal Status Helped a South L.A. Clan Develop Deep Community Roots

It’s as nostalgic a scene as you can get: young boys gathering in the streets, playing summertime baseball into the night, dreaming of the big leagues. …

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The South Los Angeles Future Will Be Shared

In a Stronghold of African Americans and Immigrant Integration, New Identities Emerge Rooted in a Sense of Place as Much as Race

The typical story of neighborhood change, often called ethnic succession, is one in which an incoming ethnic group “takes over” and wipes away the past. But that does not capture what’s happening in South Los Angeles.

South L.A. is both a remaining stronghold …

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Life Lessons From South L.A.’s Most Influential “Rag Man”

Life Lessons From South L.A.’s Most Influential “Rag Man”

Renowned Artist John Outterbridge Has Spent Decades Mining His Surroundings for Material

John Outterbridge has spent more than eight decades noticing, saving, and recombining parts of his surroundings. It’s an artistic method. His sculptures bring together different found materials, and the resulting assemblage turns what might seem like random detritus into a concentrated aesthetic experience. But it’s also a philosophy. “At its root,” Outterbridge explained recently in an email interview, “is the idea that everything has value. Everything has meaning. Everything has impact.”

Outterbridge was born in 1933 in Greenville, North Carolina, where …

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The Secret to South L.A.’s Success Is That It Loves Itself

Local Leaders Discuss Protecting the Community’s Rich Past and Promoting Its Bright Future

It’s one thing to put in the hard work to improve a community, but when do you declare success?

In long-maligned South Los Angeles, that time is now, said a panel that included a scholar, a community organizer, a youth mentor, and a former city official during “Is South L.A. an Urban Success Story?,” a Zócalo/California Wellness Foundation event. …

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A South L.A. Novelist on Why He Teaches Kids It’s OK to Be Weird

Jervey Tervalon’s Inner City Education Made Him a Passionate Reader and Respected Writer

As a teenager in South Los Angeles, I worked for Anti-Self Destruction, a government-funded neighborhood advocacy nonprofit. There I met Ollie, a handsome, slender supervisor who rocked lime green jumpsuits and sported a neat beard. One day I needed to talk to Ollie—he had been a Black Panther—about being more serious, more down for black folks, and being committed to the cause. He looked at me with perfect seriousness and said, “Just keep being your weird-ass self.”

I took his words to heart, and have never let them go.

I have never let South L.A. go either. I grew …

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What’s Holding Jordan Downs Back?

The Housing Project’s Much Anticipated Redevelopment Keeps Getting Delayed by Bureaucracy, Funding, and Nasty Underground Surprises

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South L.A. Is a Story of Both Segregation and Desegregation

Homeownership in the Area Has Been Gaining Since the 1990s, Even as Prosperous Residents Move Out

The first big change in South Los Angeles over the last half-century has been the shift of concentrated black communities westward into newer and better housing. The second big change is the replacement of …

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The Dogged Determination Behind a Decade of Health Gains in South L.A.

Once in Competition, Community Health Centers United to Improve Access and Hold Community Leaders Accountable

Health care, and access to it, has been quietly improving in South Los Angeles over the last decade. But, as I’ve seen firsthand while working with a collective network of eight independent community health centers that serve 210,000 people across the area at 45 clinic sites, such progress has not come easily.

Since 2007, this network—the Southside Coalition of Community Health Centers—has increased capacity by 53 percent. Last year, our clinics provided nearly 765,000 primary care visits to 210,000 community members. Yes, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) increased their growth but it wasn’t enough. Thirty-eight percent of their patients are still uninsured. …

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There’s More Healthy Food in South L.A. Than You Think

And There’d Be Even More, If Elected Officials Supported Local Initiatives Instead of Trying to Attract Big Supermarkets

I moved to South Central Los Angeles almost 20 years ago with a 9-year-old and a baby, and, as I went about raising my two children, I was immediately struck by the scarcity of stores selling affordable, healthy food.

Fortunately, I had an alternative. I was able to buy produce in the neighborhood from a truck that stopped by once or twice a week and sold papayas, mangos, melons, cucumbers, coconuts, corn, and whatever else was in season in Mexico (where I understood the produce to be coming from). It was a simple, flatbed truck. The driver picked up the produce right before driving around …

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How South L.A.'s Parks Help Men Heal

The Region Is Slowly Getting More of the Green Spaces and Gardens It Needs

“Hey man, did you ever just lay in the grass and look at a cloud pass?” said Marlon, a physically fit, 30ish African-American man. He was in South L.A.’s Martin Luther King Park with Antar Tichavakunda, a member of a research team from USC who’s working with me on a multi-year study to understand how people use the area’s parks.

“Cloud watching” is not just a data point for researchers like myself, it’s also a critical moment for Marlon, who had recently been “on vacation” (a local euphemism for being in prison) and had come to the park to gather his thoughts. Something about listening to the wind rustle tree leaves and staring at the clouds drew him to the park.

Many civic leaders and organizations are working to make more parks and community gardens in South Los Angeles, but in my sociological research, I’m trying to …

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Prop. 47 Has the Power to Transform South L.A., If More People Used It

By Reclassifying or Expunging Prior Convictions, Many Californians Could Gain Opportunities

One way to help transform South L.A.—and communities across California—would be for people to use the new power they have under Proposition 47 to expunge or reduce the felony convictions on their criminal records. This is a huge opportunity for people to change their criminal records—but in …

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In South L.A., a Growing Interest in Urban Gardening

In South L.A., a Growing Interest in Urban Gardening

A Place Called Home Offers Local Youth a Chance to Farm in the Middle of South Central Avenue

A Place Called Home is one of the treasures of the South Central Avenue corridor. It’s been so successful at serving young people ages 8 to 21 (they’re called members)—providing academic enrichment, training, mentorship, homework help and tutoring, athletics, arts programming, and a high school-dropout recovery partnership with L.A. Unified School District—that it’s now in the process of expanding into a building across the street from its headquarters at Central and 29th Street.

Among the many offerings at A Place Called Home is an urban agriculture program. It’s popular with members—and fits well in South L.A., where residents have a long tradition of community gardens and locally grown food. …

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Why I Long for El Swapmeet de la Alameda

The South L.A. Market Once Connected My Family to Mexico; Now It's a Memory of the City We Fled

I miss el Swapmeet de la Alameda, on East 45th Street where South Los Angeles meets the city of Vernon.

I miss how the smell of churros—cinnamon, brown sugar, and baked dough—used to make my mouth water as we passed by the lady who sold them three for a dollar. I loved how the Spanish music mixed with the booming sounds of voices speaking more Spanish deep in my eardrums. My eyes were often captivated by colorful piñatas hanging from the ceiling, and by the rows and rows of Mexican candy—Masapan (marzipan), Duvalin (candy creams), Bubu Lubus (chocolate covered marshmallows). These candies were at the level of my head when I was a little kid.

And when we would go to the area where my father bought ingredients for the tamales he made and sold, I appreciated …

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Cruising South Central Avenue

Photographs Capture the Beauty and Change of One of L.A.'s Most Dynamic Corridors

South Los Angeles, a big and diverse place of 30-some neighborhoods, used to be known as South Central. And South Central’s name, while reflecting the geography of South L.A. as both south and central in the Los Angeles basin, was taken from S. Central Avenue, one of the long, north-south corridors that shape residents’ daily lives. …

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South Los Angeles: Can the Site of America's Worst Modern Riots Save an Entire City?, is a special project of Zócalo Public Square and the California Wellness Foundation.