Westwater Downtown - Here’s Proof: NCs can Improve the Economy
By Brady Westwater
Now that LA Neighborhood Councils Congress has an Economic Development Committee, it's been suggested that if the City of Los Angeles can't create community sensitive economic development, how can the NC's succeed?
The answer is City Hall does not have the local knowledge or the staff or the resources to create a healthy economy in our neighborhoods - which is why we have to work with the city on its programs that we agree with. But if we can also provide the leadership as well as the workers, then the city and other government agencies – and businesses and business organizations – will join with us to implement our programs.
One example is the experience of DLANC, the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. After the DLANC arts committee proposed a Gallery Row in a neighborhood with just two galleries, Councilwoman Jan Perry immediately passed a council resolution and ordered the signs before we even got past the initial planning stages.
But with her support and the resultant press – some of it skeptical, of course, we developed a momentum we would not have otherwise had. By the time we unveiled those signs, we had a real Gallery Row. Another lesson here is that we took one of our neighborhood's existing strengths - artists – and built upon that existing foundation.
At the same time, our economic development committee held two events to bring creative businesses downtown. DLANC sponsored and financed one event, spending about… 60 bucks…. in a city donated space. The second event was paid for and run by the city.
Both events were well attended, but the city's event did not result in a single business moving downtown – while our community-run event not only generated activity immediately, but another business from the event recently opened and another one will open in two months - almost four years later. But it took both us and the city working together to make our event happen.
In another instance of the superiority of the grass roots approach, the city has given around a million dollars (over several years) to an out of area group to recruit new business. They have done a good job working with businesses once they are here. But while over 30 businesses have been recruited by our volunteer, unpaid DLANC members, not a single business has been recruited with the million dollars spent by the city. Now imagine if those million of dollars of resources had been shared with DLANC - how much more could have been achieved?
Our most striking success was probably the cleaning up of the most crime ridden intersection in the city – 5 th and Main. A group of us decided – even before Gallery Row – to tackle the heart of the drug trade in Los Angeles – the place where even Hollywood stars came to buy their drugs. And through the very efforts of our very informal 5th and Main group, the DLANC economic development committee, the Gallery Row Project, the Downtown Art Walk – which was founded by Bert Green, a member of the arts committee – and working in collaboration with the police and the local BID, that corner was just featured in the Washington Post as a sign of how far our community has come.
More recently, after the city had failed in its attempts to host Fashion Week in Los Angeles, several neighborhood council members – and city officials – just bought back Fashion week to the Downtown Fashion District.
It began when former neighborhood council board member Cynthia Ruiz, now President of the Board of Public Works, encouraged me, and DLANC board members, developer Gary Warfel and BOXeight founder Peter Gurnz, to tackle bringing Fashion Week back to Los Angeles. DLANC board member Michael Delijani then donated the Los Angeles Theatre and Lynn Myers and Kent Smith (also DLANC board members) of the Fashion BID, offered us their support and advice.
Six weeks later, BOXeight fashion shows premiered to critical acclaim. And, just last week, a second fashion season debuted to standing room only audiences – including the Mayor - all because of the existence of… neighborhood councils.
Now the question is how do we find way to do this in all parts of our city? How can we find the strengths in our communities and use them to collectively work with the city to improve our neighborhoods? And how do we work together collectively to improve the economic health of our overall city?
That's where you all come in. We're still looking a few good people to help us find the answers. Healthy neighborhood economies are critical to all of us. Become a part of the solution. Join the LANCC Economic Development Committee today at: Bradywestwater@gmail.
(Brady Westwater is a writer and a community activist. Westwater is a CityWatch contributor.) _