I love living in Downtown Los Angeles. One reason I love living in Downtown Los Angeles is the people, politics, culture, past, present, future of Skid Row and her surrounding communities are utterly fascinating.
When you move down here it can take many months, even more than a year, before you feel you understand things well enough to even form an opinion about what’s going on.
Over the past several weeks some light bulbs went on for me to where I felt confident talking about Skid Row as three voices, two long-established and one more recent: the business development community; the large non-profits/homeless advocacy community; and the more recent voice of Skid Row itself as a community.
But as I continue to learn and process what I’m learning, I feel there is a different way of expression, similar to the idea of three voices, but even better – the organic, the artificial, the new organic. And like the three voices, this new way I understand things is based on “the containment zone”.
Housing was built in the late 1800’s to house the seasonal farm workers who would get off the train in what is now Skid Row. The housing was SRO (Single Room Occupancy), meaning small rooms and sharing a bathroom. The workers were there to make as much money as possible, live cheaply, send it back home. The people who built these dozens of SRO buildings didn’t realize it, but they were building future housing stock for the poor.
Regardless of what you think about Skid Row during the Depression and into the 40’s through 70’s, it’s clear Skid Row was organic. From Webster’s on organic: “having systematic coordination of parts : organized <an organic whole> having the characteristics of an organism :developing in the manner of a living plant or animal <society is organic>”.
The organic era of Skid Row ended in 1976 when the Los Angeles City Council passed a massive re-development strategy containing the “policy of containment”. The business development voice said yes because sending all the homeless and the money for services to Skid Row opened up the rest of downtown for development. The large non-profits/homeless advocacy voice said yes because it enabled the Skid Row SRO buildings to become official housing for the poor and safe from modern development.
The problem with this Policy of Containment creating a “containment zone” is it artificially pumped people and money for services into Skid Row. Nothing organic about it. A lenghty Los Angeles Times article about “containment” in 1985 publicly expressed doubts this artificial policy of containment was in the best interests of Los Angeles.
But everything you just read in these sentences was written to explain why I absolutely love the word Skidrokyo. It’s the new organic.
Skidrokyo was coined by the pub The Escondite and caught on with locals along the border of Skid Row and Little Tokyo. Much of the business community in Little Tokyo really dislike the word Skidrokyo. Their concerns need to be noted and respected…..that doesn’t change the fact I absolutely love the word Skidrokyo.
Along with being a catchy combination of Skid Row and Little Tokyo, I believe it communicates what Skid Row is becoming — the new organic.
The new organic embraces the former organic while pressing into what lies ahead with hope and love.
Perhaps this “new organic” is best represented by the phrases “biggest recovery community anywhere” and “community in recovery”.
“Biggest Recovery Community Anywhere” is the name of a Skid Row arts festival this May 3rd to 5th put together by the LAPD (Los Angeles Poverty Department). From promo material by LAPD founder John Malpede: “Skid Row is where recovery and transformation happen every day and on a huge scale. I’m not talking just about the many professional resources and programs in the neighborhood. No, I’m talking about the 80 plus weekly meetings each week in the community, organized by community residents”
“Community in recovery” is a phrase coined by OG Man, co-founder of Operation Facelift Skid Row. As a community in recovery, Skid Row is increasingly taking civic responsibility for the well-being of itself while expecting the City of Los Angeles and all its agencies to do their job; simply what anyone in Los Angeles has the right to expect.
Or perhaps this new organic is best represented by the new signage at the Midnight Mission, next year celebrating their 100th anniversary. A picture is worth a thousand words.
I’m sure there are many examples to cite and many ways to communicate that something powerful and good is happening in Skid Row. Something moving everyone beyond the artificiality of the containment zone.
But my favorite will always be found in Skidrokyo.
By Tom Grode
Blogger’s note: The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Trees on San Pedro Street Project editrix, Ms. McNenny. This is a Community improvement blog and not faith-based.