What to do about those Silver Lake “newcomers”

Fall in Silver Lake

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 hereMore 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.
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  • nicole

    The trolley or mini bus idea is a great idea. When I lived in the Fairfax area, we could take the mini bus around a loop that went to the Farmer’s market area and back around on Wilshire for 50 cents(?). It was enormously convenient for doing errands and shopping and practically left you at your front door. I hope you make it happen!!

  • Elizabeth Herndon

    Oh my god. We need more newcomers like you. I have to admit that I was one of the old-timey cranks that was astounded by the entitlement of the “been here since 2000″ woman in the LA Times article. Time spent in the neighborhood means nothing. Investment in the neighborhood and constructive ideas mean everything.

  • Stephanie Bartron

    Wonderful article, great ideas, and Elizabeth is absolutely right! Thank you for your bravery! And welcome home!

  • MaryAnne LoVerme

    Great ideas! My suggestions: triple the time allotted for pedestrians to cross the street; create a pedestrian crosswalk at each and every corner; and created a protected bike lane separated from car traffic by parked cars.

  • Rachel

    You are so right about the schools and the cycling. There are so many people riding bikes already in this neighborhood and I hear about way too many fatalities. I’ve been worried about who will move in to these classic businesses we’ve lost recently. I’d prefer to see a continued theme of small businesses but what’s stopping the chains?

  • ClareQuilty

    And how about a pedestrian/bike bridge over the river that makes use of the old Red Car pilings into Atwater that are sitting there unused?

  • Kenny Easwaran

    That’s definitely a nice touch with the bridge plans, but it doesn’t really do anything to improve life in Silver Lake. Obviously, it’s good that our neighbors in Atwater will have better access to the LA river bike path, but it’s important to notice that this bridge doesn’t substitute for any plan to make it easier to get from Silver Lake to the northeast.

  • Christopher Serafino

    “Id like…” to improve biking from my nearby home in Angelino Heights. I love biking into Silver Lake, but even as an avid biker I don’t always feel safe on Sunset and can’t help but feel there is a better way to connect our two communities of Silver Lake and Echo park via cycling. In Downtown they created the large green painted cycling lane on Sprint Street. I think something similar that is highly visible would encourage more people to bike in general.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    My (3-year) newcomer’s idea (though it’s a bit more Los Feliz than Silver Lake):

    Fix the intersection at Sunset/Virgil/Hollywood/Hillhurst. That one intersection turns a 10 minute walk to the subway station into a 15 minute walk. Cars only have to wait for one light cycle instead of two, but it still causes mass confusion. The way to do it is to pedestrianize both ends of that diagonal block of Hollywood Blvd, make that block of Sunset Drive one-way westbound, and turn this into a normal 4-way intersection (Vermont and Prospect can also become a normal 4-way intersection).

    Most of the cars going down that stretch of Hollywood Blvd would do just as well going down Sunset, and if the light had 4 cycles instead of 6, more of them would probably get through every minute. The shops and restaurants at the northwest corner of the block would probably love to have a pedestrian plaza out front. The Childrens Hospital would love to have a direct pedestrian connection to their parking garage (do we really want sick children to have to run across Hollywood Blvd?!). The two side streets would preserve vehicle access to the middle of the block, so U-Haul renters could have a few moments driving on a quiet street instead of having to immediately jump out onto the rush of Hollywood Blvd. It might even allow for the creation of more street parking!

    They’ve closed this block to cars before for some street festivals. I’d love to see a longer trial like Sunset Triangle plaza.

  • larry gassan

    I’ve lived in LA since ’77, and Silver Lake since 2006. Obviously the LAT columnist forgot the “glory years” in the 80s-90s when this part of the city was a shoot-em up. OK, here’s a suggestion: Separated bike-lanes on the Hyperion Bridge, even if its a jersey-wall. Every time I ride, esp up from Atwater, I wonder if my will is up to date.

  • drymtn

    Lived in Silver Lake since I was 3 years old, in 1957. I went to Neighborhood Nursery School, Micheltorena, Ivanhoe, King and Marshall. My kids grew up here but have moved away; way too unaffordable and trendy for their taste. To me it’s been a place to live out various phases of my life. I miss the laid back anonymity of the past, but I realize that it may never return. This article seems to be about promoting Silver Lake as some souped up urban cultural revival venue with constant events and heavy socialization. To me that equates to lots of commotion and congestion. Perhaps it needs to be spread out a bit and not so concentrated on this one neighborhood. All I need from Silver Lake at this point is some peace and quiet, especially at night when I like to sleep, the aesthetics it has always possessed, a little space and some local food stores that aren’t either overpriced or oversubscribed. I used to run laps around the reservoir on a regular basis. Finally I realized that Griffith Park is five minutes away and a much more chilled out place to run. I don’t miss all the congestion around the lake that we have now. Turning the reservoir into a variant of Echo Park Lake wouldn’t ease the congestion. Since I’m not into seeing and being seen, I’ll stick with GP. For the author, Silver Lake is very novel and the ideas are bubbling all over the place. Eventually the novelty will wear off and the trend will abate. Most of the kids coming here will move on as their extended adolescence finally comes to an end.

  • Margaret

    Could the trolley idea be petitioned for the LADot bus to add a new Silver Lake loop line? Great idea.

  • http://www.candyblog.net cybele

    There should absolutely be a Dash that loops between Atwater (Glendale Metrolink station), Silverlake Blvd, down Sunset to Sunset Junction then to Santa Monica and Vermont for the Red line, down to the Vermont/Beverly Red line and back down Silverlake Blvd.

    This sort of Dash would enable S’lakers to utilize the Red Line far more and probably cut down on the traffic kluge near LACC and the Virgil/Beverly/SL cluster. It would also mean that others who would like to visit (and drink) at the Sunset establishments could safely/easily take public transpo. It would also make it far simpler to do grocery shopping without a car. (Don’t think for a minute that Glendale/Fletcher is going to be any better when the Whole Foods moves in there.)

    I think there are many folks who might not go car free, but couples that could go down to 1 car if Silver Lake weren’t such an island of public transportation.

  • Will Campbell

    What an excellent examination. A most thoughtful and sincere post,with which I agree 100%. I’m an L.A. native who’s lived full-time in Silver Lake for the last 11 years, but has loved these neighborhoods since first discovering them as a teen in the early ’80s delivering the old Herald Examiner.

  • mrl

    So I don’t like all of these ideas, but I LOVE that they are all ideas about how Silver Lake should be tomorrow and next year and in 20 years, not about how the neighborhood should go back to something it may or may not have been in the past. There are neighborhoods that are designed to change as little as possible, both physically and in terms of the type of people who live there, but Silver Lake has never been one and it won’t be one in the future.

    I never moved here expecting everything to freeze in time upon my arrival. In fact, that’s pretty much why I moved here!

  • Edina

    That is actually in the works Clare! See the Glendale Hyperion Bridge Plans!

  • DoYourHomework

    I was enjoying your post until…

    “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.”

    Which shows just how little you know about the history of Silverlake. The tunnel is a remnant of the Red Car days when you could hop on a trolley on Sunset and take it downtown or all the way to the beach. Sealing off the tunnel would completely erase the fact the the neighborhood once had a vibrate, thriving transportation network. Why not open up the tunnel and create community/art space out of it?:http://www.theeastsiderla.com/2013/05/underground-art-scene-an-artistic-vision-for-a-cypress-park-tunnel/

    Please do your homework before you suggest whimsical ideas for erasing Silverlake history forever. (Maybe that’s why no one likes newcomers).

  • Alissa

    Actually it wasn’t built as part of the Red Car infrastructure, it was built to protect kids from getting hit by cars as they were crossing the street to school: http://www.theeastsiderla.com/2011/03/what-to-do-about-silver-lakes-tunnel-of-trouble/

    I think it’s an eyesore and a piece of our history that doesn’t necessarily need to be preserved. But I love the idea of turning it into an art space!

  • Alissa

    Check out some new proposals to make better connections to the river, help Silver Lakers get over the bridge and improve life in both neighborhoods: http://blog.archpaper.com/wordpress/archives/75290

  • Kenny Easwaran

    I think the Metro 201 bus does basically this. It doesn’t have the diversion up to Sunset Junction – it just continues straight down Silver Lake Blvd to Vermont/Beverly and down to Vermont/Wilshire, and starts way up in the city of Glendale.

    The Metro 175 bus does the other part of your proposed route – it goes from Sunset Junction, up Hyperion to the Gelson’s/Trader Joe’s, then over the hill and down Fletcher, west on Fountain, and reaches the Vermont/Sunset red line station, and gets to Santa Monica and Western.

    Unfortunately, both of these buses run only once an hour or so, and are thus really only useful for people with absolutely no other transportation options. I wonder if they would get more ridership if they ran every 10 minutes, like the 2 and 4. I think that’s not likely as long as driving seems cheap and easy to most people.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Unfortunately, as long as a place this centrally located is this pleasant, the only way to get rid of crowds and congestion is to either ban people from entering, or to charge them money. Similarly, if there’s good food in a place that people like, it will either be over-crowded, or extremely expensive, unless there’s a LOT of other options in the neighborhood to keep up competition. Since most of the community seems not to want to build enough new buildings along Sunset Blvd to satisfy the demand, it means that we have to deal with crowds and prices at the few places that do exist.

  • beamdog

    huh ???

  • Stan Schwarz

    Heh. It’s a well-known aspect of human nature that whenever you arrive at any place, the locals will tell you about the Good Old Days. And invariably, the Good Old Days ended just before you got there. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just people and their fallible selective memories.

    And yes, I think your ideas are good. As a frequent bike rider through that area, it’s improved considerably in the last few years. But it could still be better. As I tell everyone, riding a bike in LA is exciting. It’s like doing the Running of the Bulls every day.

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  • xiaju
  • D. Devine

    I hate them with a rather extraordinary intensity. They are all one race (and we KNOW what race that is) all beraded trust fund 20 to 30-somethings. They are GROSSLY self-entitled. This entire neighborhood was created by gays and Latino families, goths, punks and *real* starving artists. My rent was $375 when I moved here. Now, other tenants in here pay a STAGGERING $2000 for the tiny apartments we dwell in. I have rent control, much to the fury of my apartment owners. Everything beloved that was gay oriented, Latino oriented or lower income friendly has been GUTTED and gentrified to death by these people. Baby stroller congestion, cheap thrift store items marked up a few thousand percent and declared “vintage”, WASP Anglo vegan cliques, and total unfriendliness have taken over. The decent people who created this neighborhood, scattered for shelter. We are no longer together. We didn’t WANT to be separated. We didn’t WANT these people here.

  • Humans Suck

    “I want healthier, more active residents who are not subject to environmental or institutional diseases.”
    In other words, if you’re old, sick, large or asthmatic, get lost. Oy vey.

  • Humans Suck

    Completely agree.

  • Notta Hipster

    What an astonishingly horrible, evil thing to say, Alissa! Makes me sick to my stomach. Also…. “I want” “I want” “I want” “I want” “I want” “I want” “I want”- nice!

  • Notta Hipster

    (I was responding to Alissa & the main blog-post.)

  • Notta Hipster

    I agree also.

  • Phantom Commuter

    The only people who write this kind of thing don’t have to work. Somebody needs to get a real job.

  • Phantom Commuter

    Hopefully they will move back to NYC and SF, where they came from. Or, at least on to the next trend. The suburbs are the next frontier ! :-)

  • Phantom Commuter

    Boston is a nice walking city. Maybe you should check it out ?

  • Phantom Commuter

    Whittier welcomes you :-)

  • Phantom Commuter

    Only fabulous, young, rich white people need apply…

  • Phantom Commuter

    Meanwhile, the rest of the city gets nothing

  • Phantom Commuter

    Want to meet Californians ? Move to Sacramento. L.A. and S.F. are for snotty transplants. Hope they fall into the ocean ;-)