Like many of my neighbors, I was shaken by the news that someone was murdered early Wednesday evening near a place where I walk a few times a week. 78-year-old Joseph Gatto, the father of state Assemblyman Mike Gatto, was likely killed in a violent home invasion, a tragic death that has our community on edge and at the center of a media blitz.
Our little neighborhood is getting a lot of attention lately. Last year, Forbes named us the “hippest hipster neighborhood” in the U.S. Earlier in 2013, we were named one of 10 “best big-city neighborhoods” by Money magazine. Recently there was an LA Weekly feature that discussed our newfound community fame and the growing rift on our neighborhood council.
But a disappointing article in the Los Angeles Times this weekend entitled “Silver Lake renaissance attracts newcomers, worries locals“ outdid them all. The columnist tried to place last week’s horrific incident within some larger context of how Silver Lake is being overrun with outsiders, where apparently the biggest problem is that none of these people—residents or outsiders—have anywhere to park:
A surge of new restaurants, bars and boutiques has helped make Silver Lake a national darling and sent real estate prices in hilltop enclaves soaring.
But the fallout of that popularity lands on apartment-heavy streets nearby, where three-quarters of residents have no place to park because so many of the old buildings lack driveways or garages.
In car-centric Los Angeles, that’s considered a violation of a fundamental right.
The parking flap reflects other issues: a fading sense of comfort and safety, and growing unease over the onslaught of strangers — whether they’re buying $400 shoes from the new clothing boutique or spreading out their sleeping bags in the growing disorder of nearby Triangle Park.
The entire article was offensive—especially because the writer used that lazy LA cliche in her very first paragraph—but this sentiment about outsiders really angered me.
See, I’m one of those strangers. I’m one of those “newcomers” in my neighborhood.
I spent my fifth anniversary of living in Silver Lake taking a bike ride with a group of friends and neighbors. It started in Sunset Triangle Park, a new public space not of “growing disorder,” but of outdoor movies, farmers markets and acoustic concerts that’s internationally recognized. We rode down streets newly paved with bike lanes and better crosswalks that my neighbors helped make a reality. We rode by apartment buildings and urban farms and public parks I’ve written about to discuss how homeowners are working to make the neighborhood a better place. We rode near the public staircases where I host walking tours (as do many others) to teach my fellow Angelenos about Silver Lake’s special role in LA history, from architecture to transportation to gay rights. We rode along the river, a place that I was able to kayak this summer thanks to the tireless advocacy of local residents, which will soon see one of the most important environmental transformations in the entire city.
I didn’t realize it at the time when I was riding through my neighborhood, making mental notes of all the good things within a few miles of my house—almost all those things I just listed have come about in Silver Lake during the last five years.
Yet, according to the LA Times story, Silver Lake is worse off now than it was five years ago. And according to some of the people interviewed in that story, five years is not long enough for me to have a say about what kind of neighborhood I’d like to live in.
Neighborhood politics are a funny thing, and writing about them it’s hard not to lapse into stereotypes. In every article there are the veterans who reminisce about how great everything use to be, the johnnys-come-lately with their new-fangled ideas that challenge the status quo, and some lightning-rod development project that’s got the groups engaged in a nasty spitting match. Add the word “gentrification”—or lately, “hipsters”—and you’ve pretty much nailed the story of every neighborhood undergoing every kind of change in the history of civilization.
I often tell people living in Silver Lake is like living in a small town in the middle of LA, and in very many ways, it is. Not that we don’t have problems—we do. But like a small town, I think we can be too wary of opinions that are different from the ones we’ve always held. From what I’ve seen in my short time here, I think we need to find a way to embrace the energy and ideas of newcomers, because guess what? Newcomers are just going to keep on coming.
So I’ve created a list below of what I’d like to see happen in my neighborhood. These are the unsolicited ideas of a newcomer, a person who has only lived here five years but has never loved living in a place more in her life. I don’t know the historical context for many of these ideas. We’ve probably already tried them. But this is a list of how a newcomer sees Silver Lake today and how a newcomer thinks Silver Lake could be better. I may have only been here five years but I can honestly say I have no desire for my neighborhood to “go back” to anything. I want my neighborhood to move forward. I want very much to be a part of that change, and I know I’m not the only newcomer who feels that way.
Returning to that LA Times article, I want to make one more point. The only correlation between the horrific murder that happened last week and the state of our neighborhood is that these things don’t happen nearly as much as they used to precisely because of the way Silver Lake is changing.
This was the first homicide of the year in Silver Lake. In 2008 we had five homicides, according to the LA Times’ own homicide data. We are 136 out of 205 LA neighborhoods when it come to violent crime. Silver Lake is a safer place than it’s ever been. This is because there are more people here. More people living here = more people on the streets = more people getting to know their neighbors = people walking around at night = a safer community for all.
If you want to live in a small town in the middle of LA that is certainly not perfect but has all the ingredients to make it a great place (with your help!), then Silver Lake is the place for you.
Welcome, newcomers. You’re going to love my neighborhood.
A Newcomer’s Ideas for Silver Lake
- I want to take the focus off parking and work on improving Silver Lake for walking, biking and public transit so residents will feel comfortable only having one car per household and visitors to the neighborhood will be more likely not to drive here.
- I want a Silver Lake Trolley that does a loop along Sunset, Silver Lake Boulevard, Glendale, Rowena, and Hyperion to eliminate those short car trips that cause insane traffic and bad parking situations.
- I want enhanced, well-marked and shaded pedestrian paths from the Red Line stations to Silver Lake, which will help people understand how close and accessible the subway system is so they’ll use it as an alternative.
- I want the bus stops throughout the neighborhood to be adopted by artists, like the electrical boxes, to beautify and bring attention to these transportation alternatives and help people feel safer when waiting at them at night.
- I want a whole series of improvements that will make Silver Lake an even more walkable community: installing pedestrian wayfinding signage, clear marking of staircases so people understand how the neighborhood knits together, fixing sidewalks and crosswalks, and planting more trees.
- I want healthier, more active residents who are not subject to environmental or institutional diseases.
- I want Dana Hollister’s Pilgrim Church hotel project to move forward so we can have a vibrant cultural business at the center of our neighborhood and a place for our friends to stay when they come from out of town.
- I want all the schools in the neighborhood to have their parents involved as much as Ivanhoe Elementary.
- I want the same quality of community gardens found at Micheltorena and King to be found at every school, church and community center.
- I want that horrible tunnel that goes under Sunset near Micheltorena Elementary to be sealed off so it will no longer serve as a reminder that at one time the street was so unsafe for children that we forced them to walk down into a dark tunnel.
- I want every student to feel safe walking to school.
- I want the Silver Lake Reservoir to take down its fences and naturalize the shore when it’s taken offline. And add some boats and a cafe like Echo Park Lake.
- I want the Rowena Reservoir to be opened back up to the public as a park.
- And I want to turn the Ivanhoe Reservoir into a public pool. Like this. (I have a whole plan for this. We can make it happen.)
- I want the Corralitas Red Car property to become part of a greenway network that stretches from Elysian Park to Griffith Park, providing a way for hikers and walkers to safely travel from one urban park to another, and enhancing the connection to nature for neighborhoods along the way.
- I want the Hyperion Bridge to become the premier model for a multimodal viaduct in the city of Los Angeles that’s safer for cars, buses, bikes and walkers.
- I want Hyperion, Fletcher, and Glendale to become streets where I won’t be scared for my life.
- I want the neighborhood to make it easier for restaurants to provide outdoor dining, especially along the LA River, which will strengthen the local relationship to one of our greatest assets.
- I want the LA River to become the pride and joy of all of Los Angeles.
- I want more cafes, more restaurants, more stores, more bars, more live music venues, more opportunities for business to thrive—including helping the ones that have been here forever.
- I want more affordable, high-density housing to be built near the walkable centers of our neighborhood.
- I want to preserve the diversity of a community that has always been known for accepting residents from all backgrounds, economic status, and beliefs.
- I want my neighbors to add anything I forgot in the comments.