The Great Streets Challenge: Taking Stock of Watts Re:Imagined

Soon, when you walk down 103rd Street or Wilmington Avenue—main thoroughfares in Los Angeles’ historic neighborhood of Watts—you’ll be able to see the result of years of community-driven efforts to transform the neighborhood to one of vibrancy and opportunity.

Naria Kiani

Working with our partners at Grant Housing & Economic Development Corporation, we have been able to participate in and witness this vital work. In 2012, we combined forces to create Watts Re:Imagined, an initiative to help spur the stirrings of revitalization in Watts—an effort now getting attention from both the city and the state.

At NRDC, we were inspired by the stories of Watts’ history like those told by Chris Jordan, Grant Housing & Economic Development Corporation executive director, and we shared them in 2015 in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Watts Uprising.  With the recent announcement of Watts Re:Imagined as a winner in the Mayor’s Great Streets Challenge, we’re confident the community—also recognized by the city as one of LA’s iconic neighborhoods—will be able to use these and other investments to improve its residents’ livelihoods and foster lasting change.

In just the last couple of months, the partners of Watts Re:Imagined have secured over $3 million for green infrastructure and safer streets in Watts—to increase mobility, reduce polluted runoff, and bolster the implementation of community-driven plans.

Watts Green Streets Plan

In partnership with the LA Waterkeeper, NRDC negotiated a settlement with the County of Los Angeles resulting in $2.8 million slated for green infrastructure in Watts. Thanks to the clearly articulated vision outlined in the Watts Green Street plan, the Rivers & Mountains Conservancy also allocated an additional $500,000 in grant funding to build out segments of the plan to expand recreational space, improve water quality, and build green alleyways in Watts. All of these projects also align closely with the city’s Sustainability pLAn, and highlight how to implement sustainability at the neighborhood scale.

What’s more, Grant Housing just completed a Health Action Plan, supported by Enterprise Community Partners, to maximize health at the planned Park Gateway affordable housing development, one of the first such plans at this scale in the nation using Enterprise Green Communities criteria, which incorporates health into sustainable and affordable housing construction.

But these improvements and investments are just the beginning. 

Multiple corridors in Watts are on the city’s High Injury Network map, a dubious distinction that highlights the need for increased traffic and pedestrian safety. Fortunately, Metro’s first/last mile planning for the Blue Line is another key opportunity to provide safe streets for all through a process led by community organizations like the East Side Riders Bicycle Club.

Data-driven processes like Vision Zero, which is a citywide initiative to make safety the highest priority for LA streets, and the Great Streets Challenge clearly provide opportunities for the city and county to support additional projects in Watts.

Finally, programs like the state’s Transformational Climate Communities that seek disadvantaged communities that have integrated solutions to respond to climate change sound like just the kind of resources that could scale up change and bring Watts to the forefront of equitable development and opportunity in Los Angeles.

Watts Re:Imagined

With all of the exciting changes and enormous opportunities on the horizon, we remain acutely aware of the urgent health, economic, social, and other needs facing the Watts community. There is more work to be done to bring substantial investment and resources to Watts in a way that responds directly to community needs, and we’ll be pursing these resources to further implement the vision for Watts. We are honored to elevate the voices of the community through these activities.

About the Authors

Shelley Poticha

Director, Urban Solutions

Steve Fleischli

Senior Attorney and Director, Water program

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