New microparks in Los Angeles have important implications for the community. These small, green spaces provide oases from the concrete confines of the city; yet they also indicate a larger trend in the gentrification of L.A. County. Gentrification, which describes the shift in demographics when affluent people move into and modify a previously low-income area, might appear to be beneficial, but in reality, it magnifies the problem of homelessness and poverty in the county.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Councilman Jose Huizar most recently announced that Pershing Park might get a facelift. This park, located in the heart of Pershing Square, is rich in Los Angeles history.
According to the L.A. Parks website, Pershing Park, or “La Plaza Abaja,” was first dedicated in 1866; a full century and a half later, Pershing Park remains.
In its article, the Times hinted that the task force aiming to redesign the park has ulterior motives. Becky Dennison, of Community Action Network, labeled the task force as one-sided because it excluded park users, most commonly the poor, from the task force. Instead, the Times speculates that the task force will be a partnership between local businesses seeking to attract a wealthier crowd.
In addition to the Pershing Park task force’s lopsided membership, local parks are excluding the poor and homeless. Some of the newest green spaces downtown come with hefty regulations designed to discourage loitering and camping. Increased police presence, metal benches and bans on shopping carts all discourage the city’s indigent from taking up residence. Rick Coca, spokesman for Huizar, maintained that, the city “welcome[s] anybody from anywhere into any of our parks.” Instead, Skid Row activists have accused the city of intimidating the homeless, according to the Times.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, and other advocates pushed for a Homeless Bill of Rights, or Assembly Bill 5, to address this injustice. The proposed bill would have granted homeless people the right to sleep, urinate, panhandle and collect recyclables in public places. Though the bill drew attention to the issue of homeless and indigent Angelenos, it neither addressed the underlying causes of homelessness nor provides a feasible solution. And even though homeless people should not be subject to undue police harassment, legalizing activities such as public sleeping and panhandling will only aggravate the problem. Condoning these activities sends the false message that it is okay to live in this manner. Focusing energy in creating long-term solutions to address the issue of homelessness is more important.
This bill had noble intentions, but it was ultimately no more realistic than the microparks’ stance on homelessness and poverty. The Assembly decided to vote against the proposed bill. As the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s statistics indicate, homelessness is a growing problem and these temporary fixes will not address the matter.
Furthermore, programs such as Esperanza Community’s Mercado La Paloma, which nurture locally operated small businesses, could be used as models for helping to end homelessness and poverty in Los Angeles. Mercado La Paloma manages to cater to both the interests of the new urbanites and the local residents. Similar solutions can and should be integrated into city planning in order to address the complications of gentrification.
Just as there is no single cause of homelessness or poverty, the approach to solving homelessness must be multifaceted. Unlike the previously proposed AB 5, it must include a reevaluation of services and focus on long-term solutions, not decriminalizing certain behaviors.
Correction: A published version of this incorrectly stated that Assembly Bill 5 was still up for vote in the Assembly. However, the bill has already been voted down. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.
Veronica An is a sophomore majoring in narrative studies.