Photo by Carlos Villicana
When asked about what changes North Long Beach residents have seen in their communities, the responses varied. Initial answers included positive changes, such as more trees and increased bike accessibility. Then came some not so positive changes.
“More people living in cars,” one resident said.
“Empty businesses on Atlantic,” another added.
“A lot of places have closed down and left us,” said one of the final commenters.
In sharing these responses, the community expressed the history they’ve witnessed with their own eyes. But they were brought together at Jordan High School to learn about what practices created the conditions they vocalized seeing.
Hosted by the Prevention Institute, Long Beach Forward, and Healthy Active Streets, this UPLAN Neighborhood Empowerment workshop was dedicated to answering how North Long Beach became the underinvested area it is commonly known as.
This workshop, held last Wednesday night, was a part of a months-long process dedicated to gaining community input for the City of Long Beach’s efforts to determine future land-use in North Long Beach.
“We’re trying to facilitate a process where there is a lot of grassroots engagement, and community is a part of that process,” said Robert Baird, program manager of the Prevention Institute.
So far, the vision for a new North Long Beach includes equity and health. “That’s how we [should/will] manage our infrastructure, as well as our streets, our transit, and things like that.”
The three organizations, along with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, ran the workshop to teach North Long Beach residents about the past of their home, and how they can help shape its future.
“So, it’s important to acknowledge and have a shared understanding of that history so that the community can envision… where are we going? What do we need as a community?” said Elsa Mei Tung, research and policy analyst for Long Beach Forward.
North Long Beach was initially used mostly as farmland, and many people were drawn to the city by the possibility of getting rich via the oil industry, Tung mentioned in a presentation to group. A flier, shown to the audience, sold Long Beach to potential new residents by asking if they were among the many who have gotten rich by finding oil in Long Beach.
In the 1930s, private banks and the Federal Housing Administration began practicing redlining, using the racial composition of a neighborhood to limit or deny loans to potential homeowners. This, in combination with blockbusting — fearmongering white residents to sell properties which realtors sold at higher rates to people of color — led to people of color having reduced access to homeownership, limiting their opportunities to accrue credit or wealth.
Toward the end of her presentation, Tung showed three maps of Long Beach, demonstrating how people of color today live in areas with a high concentration of renters. A map showed that these areas were also those deemed unfavorable for investment during the 1930s’ redlining.
“None of this is an accident. This happened because of policy, that led to disinvestment. That led to concentrations of poverty and concentrations of people of color,” Tung said to the audience.
The workshop was the third of eight planned to be held in North Long Beach, and residents who have attended the previous workshops have been vocal about the changes they want to see.
“I think overall we’re hearing pretty consistently that the community wants to see vitality in the streetscapes,” Baird said.
Future workshops will be focused on land-use, planning, and how communities can influence the processes that shape their city. Updates can be found on the social media of Healthy Active Streets and Long Beach Forward.