How Millennials are Learning to #WalkTheWalk
Why art in the public space is making Los Angeles safer and more welcoming and what millennials have to say
In April 2017, Los Angeles Global Shapers kicked off #WalkTheWalk, a project focused on experiencing the diverse neighborhoods and cultures that make up the City of Los Angeles. Through in-person walking tours, we engage directly with community partners, artists, and policy makers as we, quite literally, walk the streets of Los Angeles. The goal of this project is twofold: to build awareness about key issues different communities in the city face, and to highlight the ways they have responded to them. Our Hub — a diverse group of about three dozen millennials based in the City of Angels — is also actively exploring opportunities to contribute specific causes within these communities, based on the needs identified during our scheduled Walks and our engagement of local stakeholders.
Pacoima the Beautiful
On October 22, the Los Angeles Global Shapers Hub visited Pacoima, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the northern San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles. We chose Pacoima for its innovative efforts in supporting public art installations, including the celebrated Mural Mile, as well as environmentally-oriented initiatives, including improved transit infrastructure. Van Nuys Boulevard — a key street that traverses Pacoima — was one of the 16 corridors chosen as part of the inaugural Great Streets Initiative led by the Los Angeles Mayor’s office. This initiative brought funding for maintenance of streets and sidewalks, stormwater infrastructure improvements, and support in providing storefront upgrades for local businesses in Pacoima.
In partnership with LA Commons and led by Kristy Sandoval, we spent the morning viewing six murals dotting Van Nuys Boulevard. Painted images of local celebrities, like Danny Trejo; social statements, like “A Woman’s Place Is in the Struggle”; and even covert ads, like one paid for by Honda, demonstrate the Pacoima community’s past and present identities.
They exemplify how Pacoima, like many other communities in LA, is walking the tightrope between neighborhood improvement and gentrification — a topic Kristy raised often as she answered questions about the importance of Mural Mile to the neighborhood.
While the murals help amplify and define the Pacoima community identity by beautifying streets and involving community members, especially youth, some worry that they will someday be harbingers of gentrification. As vacancy rates in LA drop, housing prices and rents climb, and ownership rates stagnate, it seems that no neighborhood is immune to the issue of maintaining affordability while enhancing livability.
The event ended with lunch at Chabelitas, a taco shop, which, as the recipient of funding from the Great Streets Initiative, was lightly renovated by the Angeleno and women-owned design firm, LA-Mas.
Millennials are anything but indifferent about their city
Here is what some Global Shapers in our Hub had to say about the visit:
“I was born and raised in Los Angeles, but I didn’t even know Mural Mile existed. It was fascinating to hear the local organizer re-frame the usage of the word Gentrification because they were more concerned with creating a safer place for their family to grow up while not having to compromise preserving the cultural heritage. By taking part, they are clearly helping shape the city of Pacoima in a progressive way.” (Prince Boucher, social media expert)
“I was struck by the number of people impacted by the City’s support for public art installations: from high school students to experienced artists and community volunteers, this initiative shows the potential art has to bring people of all backgrounds together in a very unique way.” (Jakub Hlávka, technology policy researcher)
“I’m no longer surprised by the level of creativity and innovation I see in every LA neighborhood I visit. Pacoima is no different: As our visit to Mural Mile and experience with Kristy Sandoval demonstrated, Angelenos are dedicated to making their streets beautiful, accessible, and safe, even as they grapple with issues of affordability, gentrification, and youth empowerment.” (Julia Thayne, urban technologist)