This November I presented my research on Berkeley’s People’s Park at SACRPH – The Society for American City and Regional Planning History. Because the conference was based in LA, many panels that put theorists, practitioners, and historians in conversation addressed local concerns over the right of the masses to the city. One of the most engaging panels included presentations by Cathy Gudis and Eric Avila who, in different ways, evidenced a public visual culture “from below” with rich examples of people staking claim to urban space in LA.
Eric showed his own photographs of The Great Wall – a mural painted on a concrete barrier trailing 2754 feet on Canyon Ave by artist Judy Baca – which offers vivid snapshots in America’s history and experiences of communities of color. More than just acknowledging their existence, the mural captures struggles over power embedded in urban space, such as this segment that portrays how local and state governments backed with federal funding seized land owned by people of color to build highways, universities, and more. This segment shows how the state demolished Chavez Ravine, a Mexican American neighborhood in LA, to make way for a new highway and the Dodger’s Stadium that divided the barrios and fragmented the Mexican American community.
Offering a contemporary lens, Cathy shared her own experiences working with the bi-annual Walk the Talk parade held by the LAPD (LA Poverty Department) in Skid Row – home to the largest homeless population in the US. My own experience staying in Skid Row for the SACRPH conference was eye-opening. I was absolutely stunned at how many people were living on the street in clumped tent cities.
The parade functions as an affront to cultural norms and policies discouraging citizens and tourists from venturing into Skid Row and talking with its itinerant residents. Marchers carrying musical instruments and posters showing the faces of dead and still surviving homeless residents process through the neighborhood. The parade is part of a series of events facilitated by the LAPD that engages the community in discussions to identify initiatives and people who have made positive contributions to Skid Row.
What events and places in your community highlight the experiences of people of color in American past and present?