Re-Imagining Watts 50 Years After the Riots

Community Groups Launch Effort to Bring a New Main Street to the L.A. Neighborhood

LOS ANGELES (May 19, 2015) — Fifty years after the Watts Uprising, a coalition of community groups today launched Watts Re:Imagined – a sustainable redevelopment vision for the South Los Angeles neighborhood. The plan draws on the region’s rich historical legacy and is designed to promote economic opportunity and social equity, along with environmental stewardship.

“For many Americans, these two square miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles will always be associated with the Watts Uprising – the revolts that came to represent the enormity of racial tension in the United States,” said Chris Jordan, executive director of Grant EDC and a founding member of the Watts Re:Imagined coalition. “To the people who live here, though, Watts is a community continually striving to evolve and overcome the challenges of its past, so it can become a thriving neighborhood that its residents deserve.”

Watts Re:Imagined is a community-based improvement initiative led by Grant Housing & Economic Development Corp and the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Urban Solutions program. It is designed to help fill the void left by the dissolution of the city’s redevelopment agency, building on plans developed and supported by the community and local government.

“Our Watts Re:Imagined projects will focus on positive, enduring change in Watts – a community that, through it all, has continued to cultivate art, culture, and a sense of hope and possibility,” said Catherine Cox Blair, NRDC senior adviser. “Watts Re:Imagined is designed to help make these dreams reality and make Watts a new national example of sustainable development.”


Main Street Watts: Transforming the Neighborhood

Watts’ 103rd Street was once an urban center of commerce and community. But the riots left the area in ruins with piles of bricks and ashes, earning the corridor the nickname “Charcoal Alley.” Over the years renovations were made, but the bustling corner markets, shops and cafes never returned.

Working together with other organizations and residents, Watts Re:Imagined aims to turn 103rd Street into Main Street Watts – the heart of a neighborhood – with community gathering spaces, pedestrian access, and local businesses. It would be a model of modern urban living with mixed-use buildings, transit-oriented development, sustainable architecture, and plenty of green alleys and shade trees.

A specific Main Street feature would include a Watts Park gateway with an entrance at 103rd Street and Central Avenue with high-quality transit-oriented housing, commercial development and pedestrian connections to the 27-acre Ted Watkins Memorial Park and residential areas.

“This community has been through a lot. And they deserve a neighborhood that visually reflects the true beauty that lives here,” Jordan said.

Other projects include developing an environmental health improvement strategy, incorporating sustainable design principles into new public improvement projects and existing properties, implementing the Central Avenue Master Plan and creating safe public ways.

A considerable amount of planning and design work has already happened in Watts. Watts Re:Imagined will zero in on the existing transportation and public service infrastructure as well as emerging opportunities for commercial, mixed-use and affordable housing development. And it will coordinate with major initiatives already underway at the Jordan Downs housing projects and the Watts Towers/Cultural Crescent.

The City of Los Angeles has publicly expressed support for the project. Grant EDC, NRDC Urban Solutions and Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors (ELP) will work in collaboration with the community to build upon plans and projects currently underway and to ensure that CRA-LA properties are redeveloped sustainably.

Additional resources, support, expertise and creativity for Watts:Reimagined comes from Watts Community Studio Los Angeles City Council District 15, City of Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency Plan, Central Avenue Master Plan and Corridor Study CRA/LA, Watts Greenstreets Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, Watts Watershed Annenberg Foundation and Los Angeles & San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council, Watts Charrette Watts Re:Imagined, Watts Our Town Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and National Endowment for the Arts, Watts Health Assessment Kaiser Permanente, Creative Housing Associates, and Kounkuey Design Initiative.

Grant EDC is connected to Grant AME Church, which will celebrate 110 years in Watts in 2016. A series of events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Watts Uprising is planned for August 2015, beginning with a symposium at the church on Saturday, August 1.

NRDC’s Urban Solutions program focuses on building healthy, sustainable cities—in California and around the country.

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