This month the GOOD Los Angeles team and 40 of our closest friends took to the streets of Watts to explore the landscapes of a neighborhood in transition. Led by the Watts-based bicycle groups the East Side Riders and Los Riderz, participants got a lesson on the rules of the road for urban cycling, took a tour of the neighborhood, and learned about its history and the issues it faces.
For several of the riders, this was their first group bike ride—a unique urban cycling experience in which we were led by guides, who themselves were organized into leaders, “corkers” (who stopped traffic at intersections to ensure that all riders got through), and riders at the back who made sure that no rider was left behind.
Some of the discussions that came up during the day involved ways the neighborhood could benefit from citywide support:
What to Do About Vacant Lots: The dozens of unused and underused spaces in Watts end up being a dumping ground for trash, mattresses, old tires, and more. Some are owned by the city, while others are not. Tafarai Bayne, one of the ride organizers and Community Affairs Manager at TRUST South LA, pointed out that the Mexican restaurant we rode by had vacant lots on both sides and we talked about the dangers of food vendors preparing and selling food next to vacant lots full of trash. Additionally, though community and backyard gardens provide healthy alternatives for local residents, they ultimately share the same soil with these vacant lots, where chemicals from abandoned automotive parts seep into the ground. The tangible and visible link between the food and the garbage seemed to help participants understand the dangers of vacant lots. Solutions that were discussed were reclaiming unused and underused space to benefit the community in meaningful ways, whether that was green spaces for recreation, community gardens, or affordable housing for residents. Insight into this subject: "How To Transform a Vacant Lot Into a Community Garden."
The Need to Improve Incomplete Streets: Many of the roads in South Los Angeles prioritize cars over cyclists, pedestrians, children, and the elderly. It can be difficult to get to a bus stop, unsafe for bicycles to share the lane with cars, and nearly impossible for those who require wheelchairs to get around. This ride allowed non-Watts residents to experience this reality first-hand, and many noted the difference compared to the streets of Venice, West Los Angeles, Downtown—some of the most bike-friendly neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Compared to Downtown's bright green bike lanes, the highly visible shared lanes of Santa Monica, or the well-maintained roads of West Hollywood, Watt's roads are marred by potholes, lack of signage, and few marked bike lanes. Insight into this subject: "How to Provide a Network of Green Bikeways in Your City."
How to Provide Healthy Food and Recreational Spaces: Despite its high population density and recognition as an epicenter of history and culture in Southern California, Watts is sorely lacking in quality supermarkets with fresh produce and healthy foods. This leaves families and parents—many of whom live in housing projects, at or below the poverty line—with few options but packaged, high-calorie foods. It’s also one of most park-poor communities in LA, with limited green and safe spaces for families and youth to exercise or play sports. Insight into this subject: "Swapping Hot Cheetos for Whole Wheat Bread: A Corner Store Redesign."
Finishing our ride at the Watts Towers was the perfect way to end this ride. We learned about the history of the towers and their composition: found tiles, glass, and shells that come together to form them.