Safer Hoods Through Arts Action and Community
The Idea While crime is at record lows, there are many communities with concentrated poverty that continue to face higher levels of crime higher than wealthier parts of our city. This disparity falls along race and class lines, undermining the promise of equality in our great city and threatening our future vitality.
Our idea is simple. In areas with concentrated poverty, transform public spaces, which are traditionally danger zones – such as parks and schools – into community nerve centers for developing leaders, addressing public safety, and creating transformative social change. By organizing residents to reclaim public spaces, communities begin to transform their neighborhood, their relationships to each other, and are primed for increased civic engagement.
Previous Success Since 2008, Community Coalition has employed this strategy in the King Estates neighborhood of South Los Angeles. Residents identified Martin Luther King Jr. Park and the adjacent public library as a hub for change.
For many years, residents were afraid of using the park, and were concerned about the neighboring liquor store, recycling center, and blighted alley as a barrier to the usage of the park and library. Burglaries, assaults, theft, prostitution, and homicides were also of grave concern to the residents.
Community Coalition recruited residents to develop solutions. The community residents felt that to turn the violence and crime around in their neighborhood it would take an all hands on deck strategy. As a result they pushed for various levers of change including: pressuring City officials to increase park programming, enforce its powers to stop nuisance activity at businesses (such as loitering, selling single servings of alcohol and cigarettes, allowing on-site drug-dealing, etc.), and creating wrap around services and programs for young people at the park.
The strategy worked. Today, crime is down, and since 2008, the City has invested close to $1 million in physical improvements on what was once an ignored community. In addition, the City of Los Angeles now runs Summer Night Lights, a summer prevention program supporting youth. According to LAPD crime data from 2008-2010 crimes significantly declined after 2008. Property crimes declined 23% in 2009, and then an additional 7% in 2010. Violent crimes were also a significant occurrence at the park in 2008 but reduced by 23% in 2009, and an additional 3% the following year.
Our Proposal: Building Community through “Edu-tainment”
These investments and changes were not accidental. They came as the result of organized residents coming together to make a positive change in their community. However, not enough people know about how it happened, or that they can get involved to sustain the changes. With the support of LA2050 we plan on changing that.
Last year Community Coalition organized a summer concert called the “South LA Power Festival” at King Park. Over 1000 residents attended this all-day event to hear a dozen music acts and in the process Community Coalition successfully engaged hundreds of community members and provided education on the fall 2012 ballot initiatives. The concert served as a community celebration of change and mechanism for greater resident involvement.
This summer and fall, Community Coalition proposes to continue reclaiming public spaces by organizing a summer art walk and fall concert to: 1) Promote activism as a vehicle for increasing public safety, and 2) Recruit residents to participate in Community Coalition’s organizing activities to increase public safety.
Community Coalition believes it can build community ownership, promote social connectivity, and bring public attention to successful community driven efforts by organizing mass based entertainment events that draw positive media attention and bring thousands of residents to the space.
With the support of LA2050, we plan to build on our success in the King Estates neighborhood by expanding our “South LA Power Festival” – establishing it as a regular community function, and fortifying burgeoning community bonds. Resources from LA2050 will allow us to more than quadruple the size of our event – bringing 10,000 South L.A. residents together for a day of empowerment, entertainment, and the opportunity to connect with community leaders who are helping to transform South L.A.
Further, we plan to launch a new neighborhood organizing campaign in the Westmont neighborhood in South Los Angeles, utilizing the same tools we used to empower residents in King Estates. Resources from LA2050 will allow us to launch a South LA Art Walk in this community, helping to bring 1,000 residents together to build community bonds and get involved with Community Coalition public safety campaigns.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
Community Coalition hopes to build on its major accomplishments from its 20-year history to broaden the impact of its policies victories in the future. The most notable victories are in the arenas of public safety, child welfare and education:
• One of the Coalition’s first campaigns “Rebuild South Central Without Liquor Stores” led to national recognition and implementation of the Coalition’s public health model, which uses nuisance abatement and land use policy to improve public safety. After the 1992 Civil Unrest, this campaign led to the prevention of the rebuilding of over 150 liquor stores that were destroyed. Following this success, Coalition members helped author the citywide Nuisance Abatement Ordinance that was passed in 2008 with support from City Councilwoman Jan Perry.
• In 2004, South LA relative caregivers helped Community Coalition along with Casey Family Programs, the nation’s largest provider of private foster care, secure and establish a kinship-care support center in South LA, the first ever in the region to combine services with advocacy and community organizing. Community Coalition’s Relative Caregivers have been one of the first organized and politicized constituencies in the nation to advocate around kinship-care policies and engage elected officials around providing relative caregivers public resources. Community Coalition has won significant and important victories over the years including reaching greater parity in the amount of monthly government payments compared to their foster care counterparts.
• The “Equal Access to College Prep” campaign achieved the landmark A-G Resolution in 2005, mandating that A-G college preparatory curriculum be made available in all schools in LAUSD. Coalition youth leaders recognized that the majority of South LA youth were not on track to graduate and were ineligible for college based on college pre-requirements. In this five-year effort, the Coalition trained student leaders to engage with elected officials and decision-makers. The Coalition also co-founded Communities for Educ
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
Community Coalition believes that working in collaboration with others is essential to creating social change. Addressing public safety requires a multi-prong approach that involves various stakeholders. Community Coalition plans on building upon the alliance of organizations it involved in its organizing efforts in last years “Power Festival.” They include various organizing groups, social service providers, government representatives, businesses, labor unions, arts organizations, and advocacy groups (SCOPE, LAANE, CHIRLA, Los Angeles’ Mayor’s Office, Advancement Project, Parks and Recreation, Gang Reduction and Youth Development Office, SEIU ULTCW, SEIU Local 99, Voto Latino, and Brotherhood Crusade).
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
As a part of the organization’s larger public safety campaign, Community Coalition will analyze real crime data (gang related incidents, property crimes, violent crimes, etc) to assess whether or not crime is declining in the Westmont and King Estates communities. We will also use qualitative data collection through surveys and community meetings with residents to discuss if they feel safer, and identify “hot spots” in the community that require more attention.
We anticipate involving 150 residents in various volunteer activities, outreach efforts and planning committees to organize both events. As a part of our evaluation we will assess how well we involved residents in the planning and execution of the events. Community Coalition’s membership and leadership body, entiteled the “People Power Assembly” will be the main vehicle for community residents to help organize the events and volunteer their time. When the event is over we will review sign in sheets, agendas, notes and hold a summary evaluation with our members to assess our success.
We will measure the success of the large scale entertainment events in four additional ways: 1) how many people came, 2) how many people signed up to get involved, 3) how many people actually get involved, and 4) press coverage. With the support of LA2050 we expect to turn out close to 10,000 residents from which we will recruit 1000 new members, grow our email list by 2000, and identifying 3000 more volunteers for future activities. It is imperative to the organization that we not only bring a lot of people out, but they stay involved. This is quality that is built into the DNA of the organization as we believe the residents of South Los Angeles are the engine for social change. We expect people to stay involved by becoming a dues paying member, signing up for an email list, joining one of our many organizing committees, or becoming a volunteer of the organization.
Press coverage will be an important factor for success. Having the major media outlets in print, radio and TV cover the event will help to tell a different narrative about South Los Angeles and demonstrate the great work of community leaders advocating for change.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
Every Angeleno, regardless of class, race, or zip code should have the opportunity to live in a safe neighborhood. Ensuring that all people have access to safe parks, streets, and violence-free neighborhoods creates a more unified and stronger Los Angeles. However, there are communities in our city that continue to suffer from violence and higher rates of crime. With these racial and economic disparities, we are failing as a city to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to reach their full potential.
Organizing mass based cultural events as a part of a larger community organizing strategy to address public safety benefits Los Angeles in several ways.
1. Ensuring South Los Angeles has safe neighborhoods through prevention is good for everyone.
Los Angeles benefits from advancing policies and strategies that prevent crime, rather than deter through punishment in several ways. Everyone benefits from having less people in prison and leading positive lives. It saves taxpayers money and allows for greater use of resources on programs that Angelinos care about like parks and recreation, youth services, and education.
By advancing community driven solutions that create safer parks, schools and libraries, we not only increase public safety, but we also tackle equity and opportunity. More students will graduate, more families will stay in the community, and more Angelinos will take advantage of the rich history, culture, and institutions South Los Angeles offers the city.
2. Large-scale cultural events in South Los Angeles promote civic engagement.
Just as important as the change we create, is the way in which it is created. By believing in everyday people, developing their leadership, and creating opportunities for them to work together the best and most sustainable kind of neighborhood transformation is created. Getting people involved in the solution is a critical component to sustaining it for the long term. We seek to ensure that residents not only come to an event but also become involved in our public safety campaigns. Typically, events are one time in nature, and benefit the community for its set time. By making these events a part of an on-going organizing strategy, it moves beyond a one-time event into something meaningful throughout the year.
3. Brings positive attention to communities labeled as dangerous
Many communities throughout Los Angeles regularly hold entertainment events that bring thousands of residents together and help to establish a neighborhood identity, sense of pride, and build connections among attendees. Whether it’s the Sunset Strip Music Festival, or others, these events serve to put these communities on the map, and engender positive associations and good will. Unfortunately, South Los Angeles is at a deficit when it comes to these types of events. Our events will build community ownership, promote social connectivity, and bring public attention to successful community driven efforts.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
In 2013, Los Angeles continues to be a racially and economically segregated city. Racial and economic disparities are a defining feature of our city. African American and Latinos continue to have the poorest academic achievement levels, the lowest paying jobs, highest unemployment rates, live in concentrated poverty at higher rates, and live in the city’s most unsafe neighborhoods. This is unacceptable.
Los Angeles has a history of valuing equity. By 2050, we want to ensure that we practice it. Safe neighborhoods would not just be an experience of middle class communities, but it would extend to the entire city and have a profound impact on the lives of all Angelinos.
Safe neighborhoods helps to eliminate achievement gap in our schools. This means that children and teenagers would attend school without worrying about which way to walk home. It ensures that traumatic experiences related to gun violence do not get in the way of the social and emotional development of our youth, and allows for students to focus on their academics, graduate and go onto a some form of post-secondary education.
South Los Angeles has an overconcentration of unused land, blighted property and vacant lots that often serve as crime magnets and deterrents from using parks and libraries. These lands would be freed from bight and become pocket parks, youth centers, and markets with quality food and produce, and thriving businesses.
Families would not be afraid to use parks and libraries. Youth would not join gangs in an effort to make money for their family or be protected from a rival gang. Instead, youth will be involved in service learning projects, internships, and job shadowing opportunities.
Safe neighborhoods would mean that bars would come down from windows, gates from school sites, and security guards from shopping malls. Neighbors would interact with one another, and children will be playing on the streets.
African American and Latinos in South Los Angeles will be binded together by the opportunities in front of them, rather than the obstacles and barriers created by crime that often pit them against each other, when they should be united around the conditions such as nuisance business, failing schools, vacant lots, and unemployment that foster crime in the first place.
In 2050, Los Angeles residents will remember the role that community residents played to reclaim their public spaces, get organized, and advance transformative change one neighborhood at a time.