The Future of Watts: The Power of Youth Voice

Brainstorming Session

At the beginning of the Watts Community Studio project, our resident data nerds brought you the fun facts that the average person in Watts is 24 years old and that 39% of Watts residents are under 18. Watts is a young place, full of families (see Resources Page) and this matters as we think about how we can improve the quality of life for the neighborhood.

This summer, young people from Watts joined the Watts Community Studio through the Summer Youth Employment Program and conducted over 700 resident surveys. These youth got to know their own neighborhood in a more intimate way than so many of us get a chance to. Can you imagine asking 700 of your neighbors what they feel needs to be improved in the community?

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Within the last few weeks, these incredible Watts young people have entered resident survey data into spreadsheets for data analysis and continued to participate in other aspects of the project.  As school has now started, their time with the WCS is coming to a close. Yet before they leave, we decided to turn the tables on these teens and ask them what they think Watts needs. 

Youth Presentation

For two weeks, the youth met with each other and talked about their experiences growing up in Watts and being a part of this project. They presented the WCS team with their ideas and recommendations last week. The team was blown away by their thoughtful insights into what the young people of Watts want the most. Their idea will be in our final report. It will remain a surprise for now, but here is a sneak preview by way of Wordle:

Wordle

Watts Residents Reflect on Neighborhood Assets

photo (22)“I look at Watts as art. It’s art because of the Watts Towers, because of the graffiti artists that make beautiful drawings. The Watts Towers Art Center hosts lectures, jazz festivals and art classes. People make music videos in this neighborhood and get tattoos of the Towers. Look around and you see art everywhere.”

Rynisha Alexander is 20. She is a resident of Watts, participant in the Watts Community Studio and student at Inspire Academy in Watts. She aspires to become a medical assistant.

Making History in Watts

One week ago, Councilman Joe Buscaino was sworn-in at the Watts Towers.  Watts was incorporated into the City of Los Angeles in the late 1920’s and this was the first time that Watts hosted a council member’s inauguration. It was also the first time a Council member rode a bike into the ceremony. In the following speech, Councilman Joe Buscaino shared his vision for Watts. He outlines a promising future for a community as resilient as Watts – a community where history is being made.

By Cynthia Gonzalez

Saturday July 27, 2013 

Councilman Buscaino's Inauguration

Inaugural Address for Joe Buscaino
Los Angeles City Council Member, District 15 

“Because 2013 has been proclaimed the Year of Italian Culture in the United States, I felt it would be fitting that I be sworn in for my first full term at the home of these iconic towers.

This landmark was built by Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant, who spent 33 years of his life committed to this project — which has become the cultural mecca and a centerpiece of pride in this community. Born to Italian immigrants, I, too, am inspired by Simon Rodia, to build something in this community that will benefit generations to come.

The past year and a half since I took office have been a whirlwind, and I am proud of the work we have done in the 15th Council District — but we have so much more left to do!

We have finally launched waterfront development at the Port of Los Angeles and selected a developer to re-envision and revitalize the aging Ports O’ Call village and create a new world-class waterfront that Los Angeles deserves.

We have forged a historic alliance between business and labor and won Council approval to construct a 500 million dollar railyard in Wilmington, that will be the cleanest in the nation – improving air quality and creating 22,000 regional jobs in the process.

We have finished a two million dollar renovation of the Harbor Sports Complex field in Wilmington.

We are ready to break ground on the 110 million dollar Machado Lake Project in Harbor City, which will not only improve water quality, but also create a regional destination.

Last month we opened LA’s newest pocket park in Harbor Gateway, giving the children of that neighborhood a safe place to play and giving their mothers peace of mind.

Though I am a proud life-long San Pedran, I represent the entire district- and the affection I have for Watts is very real. I want this community to know that I am your brother – and that I am committed to serving the residents of Watts in the way that they deserve.

We are in Watts today because I have said from my first day on the job: when you judge me on my performance as Councilman, judge me by what I accomplish in Watts.

President Obama said in his most recent State of the Union address that we need “to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.” Well, Mr. President, I will do everything in my power to do this in Watts.

The keys to successful community development are ensuring public safety, expanding educational opportunities, supporting local businesses, attracting private investment and improving the quality of life for all who call this great neighborhood their home.

We need to ensure that every child in Watts has an education system that engages them and guides them down a path of success and prosperity.

Watts has already proven that it can produce extraordinary young scholars. At Verbum Dei High School – 100 percent of graduating seniors have gone on to college for the past six years! Verbum Dei has developed a model that clearly works and I will do everything I can to support them, and expand that model to other schools.

Just last week, four eighth-grade students from Markham Middle School here in Watts – Ashley Baker, Danae Tousant, Jacqueline Sanchez and Julio Romero – won the Mesa USA National Engineering Competition in Portland, Oregon with their design of a prosthetic arm. Congratulations to all of you, we are so proud to have you representing our community to the nation and so happy to have you join us here today!

We need to ensure Watts is safe. Between 1989 and 2005, this two-square mile community experienced 500 homicides. Today, the Community Safety Partnership Program, the Watts Gang Task Force and the Los Angeles Police Department have worked together to drastically reduce crime. In fact, this amazing partnership was recently featured in the New York Times and NPR’s Morning Edition.

Over the past two years, violent crime in Watts public-housing developments has fallen by more than 60 percent. Drive-by shootings, once a mainstay of gang life and the nightly news, have almost completely disappeared.

As a former LAPD Senior Lead Officer, who spent much of my career under the leadership of Chief Bill Bratton, I believe in the broken windows theory – the idea that keeping neighborhoods well-maintained and in good order stops vandalism and escalation into more serious crime.

Fix the problems when they are small.

Repair the broken windows quickly and vandals are less likely to do more damage.

Clean up the sidewalk every day, and litter will not accumulate.

Paint over the graffiti, and you prevent more graffiti.

If you show that a neighborhood is cared for, you send the message loud and clear to criminals that they are not welcome here.

Recently, we launched the Clean Watts initiative with the help of Mr. Jim Hines. Based on what’s been done in San Pedro and Wilmington, the Clean Watts initiative recruits volunteers to clean alleys and streets, keeping the community looking better than ever.

Drive through an alley in Watts today and you will see evidence of Clean Watts.

I am also proud of the initiative Athens on the Hill neighbors recently took to beautify their neighborhood. They are a great example of neighbors coming together for the common good.

Watts is on the verge of a renaissance, and we have a lot in the works over the next several years.

For example, we’re making improvements to the Watts Towers campus and the 109th Street Pool.

We are building a new skate plaza right here, and establishing a new neighborhood park at Monitor and 114th Street.

We’re developing new streetscape improvements along Central Avenue and 103rd Street to the Metro Station and unveiling a new public art plan for the Cultural Crescent area.

In total, more than 18 million dollars will be invested by the City in public facilities and street improvements in the area over the next 5 years.

Efforts to revitalize Jordan Downs Housing Development from WWII era housing into a mixed-use, mixed-income development with new homes, jobs, parks, and community facilities are well underway. Clean-up work on the 21-acre former industrial site will start early next year, creating a safer, healthier environment for residents, high school students and the entire community. Additionally, construction plans for the extension of Century Boulevard through Jordan Downs to Alameda will be completed by the end of this year.
All of the necessary funding has been identified to make this project component a reality within the next five years.

Our friends at Watts Labor Community Action Committee, will begin work to develop an urban farm, cannery and education center called the Mudtown Farms, at the former community garden site at 103rd and Grape. When completed, this will be a healthy food resource for start-up food businesses and the community alike.

The Watts Star Theater – many years in the making– with blood, sweat and tears from tireless advocates like Barbara Stanton, will break ground before the end of the year on a state-of-the-art 4-screen movie theater and education center. This facility will bring quality entertainment, educational enrichment, and job training to Watts, for the first time in decades.

Children’s Institute, AltaMed and Watts Healthcare Corporation have all committed to making significant investments in healthcare facilities in this community.

As you can see, we have been very busy in Watts.

My office recently launched the Watts Community Studio under the guidance of my Planning Director, Alison Becker. This 12-week summer research and community engagement project, is designed to help us understand what you worry about most and what you hope for in the future. I want make sure that we in the City are focused on what’s important to Watts.

Please be sure to visit the Community Studio booth at the street fair this afternoon or talk to a survey team member when you see them in the neighborhood and add your voice to the mix.

A special shout out to the students at Inspire Academy and Yo Watts, who will be participating on the survey team.

Less than a month ago, I hired John Jones III, as my Watts Deputy. The reason I chose John for this position is because he is an example of everything that is right with this community. A native of the Watts/Willowbrook area, John founded the East Side Riders Bicycle Club, with whom I rode in today. He has been instrumental in organizing community members to work toward the greater good in their neighborhood — like preparing sack lunches and riding around to hand them out to the homeless — and he does it as a volunteer. John is acutely aware of what Watts needs and will help us achieve our goals for Watts. I want the members of this community to know that John Jones III is my handpicked representative. When you talk to John, you are talking to me.

It is my goal, while I am in office, to lead a district that is number one in job growth in the City of Los Angeles. To my Council colleagues who are here – and beg to differ with me or challenge me for this title – I say respectfully, GAME ON.

These towers serve to remind me of my fellow Italian-American’s incredible commitment to this community – a commitment I will emulate not as an artist, but as your representative in the City of Los Angeles. I will strive everyday to do these things, but I cannot do it alone. You, the residents of Watts, as well as everyone else here today, must pitch in and do your part, and together we can build a legacy that will be talked about long after we are gone.

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As Vince Lombardi, another great Italian American, once said:

“Individual commitment to a group effort –
that is what makes a team work,
a company work,
a society work,
a civilization work.”

That is what I need from each and every one of you here today.

Thank you again for joining with me today in celebration of the 15th Council District, and of the people and the community of Watts. May God bless all of you, may God bless Watts, and may God Bless the City of Los Angeles.”