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L.A. works toward a revitalized, walkable Crenshaw

The boulevard has long been dominated by cars, barber shops and churches, but city officials hope a new infusion of development and improvement projects will transform it into a vibrant corridor.

September 02, 2009|Gerrick D. Kennedy

Crenshaw Boulevard has long been known as main street for southwest Los Angeles, home to religious institutions and block after block of shops, including the landmark Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza shopping mall.

The car has always been king on Crenshaw -- so much so that police over the years have cracked down on weekend cruising that many consider a rite of passage. But now, city officials want to make Crenshaw more pedestrian-friendly as well, and in the process draw more customers to the boulevard.

"We want people to want to come here," said City Councilman Herb Wesson, who represents the area. "More importantly, if not equally, we want the people who live here to not have to drive as much. When you see that an area has had a face-lift, it's easier to get new developments."

The city and its Community Redevelopment Agency have earmarked $14.7 million for a variety of projects along the boulevard, including widening some sidewalks and installing bike racks, benches, shade trees and trash receptacles.

Wesson and other officials hope to take advantage of the Expo Line light-rail system, which will run between downtown L.A. and Culver City and has a stop on Crenshaw. The Expo Line is now under construction and expected to open in mid-2010. Transit officials have discussed another light-rail line that would run down Crenshaw, but that route is still in the early stages.

LeVert Young, a longtime resident of the Crenshaw district, said he welcomes any change to spruce up the boulevard.

But his wife, Debi, thinks that the current efforts don't go far enough and that improvements are needed to the surrounding residential neighborhoods as well.

"It's rough out here," said Debi Young, 55. "Why don't they work on lowering the rents out here, or refurbishing these roach-infested apartments? There's too many people living over here." She said it's even harder to live in the district if you don't drive.

When Patrick H. Johnson moved to Crenshaw more than nine months ago, he noticed that the district was lacking a certain spark that other areas in the city had.

"This needs to be a place of destination," said the 45-year-old artist. "This area needs an array of businesses, not just hair salons, churches and barbershops."

The efforts to improve Crenshaw's pedestrian flow come amid several new developments in the area. The Rosa Parks Villas -- a 60-unit affordable housing project for seniors -- is currently under construction just south of the 10 Freeway off Crenshaw Boulevard and is slated for completion by March 2010. Wesson envisions the villas as a gateway for the revitalized corridor that will stretch south to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Michelle Banks-Ordone, project manager for the redevelopment agency, said the first phase of the improvement could begin in the summer of 2012. She and others said the challenge will be coaxing people to walk around on the boulevard that is so heavily trafficked by cars.

"Right now, it's more automobile-related. It doesn't allow interaction," said Robert Norris, director of operations of the West Angeles Community Development Corp. "Instead of going shopping someplace else or doing errands elsewhere, they can kinda stop here. That's something to look forward to."

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gerrick.kennedy@latimes.com

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