Monday, December 17, 2007

On Vernacular Urbanism and Spiritual Space.


About fifteen years ago, several homeowners decided to change the name from Sepulveda to North Hills in an attempt to shake off the negative perception that people have of Sepulveda Blvd. The trivial name change did very little to improve the quality of life for many of the residents (e.g. apartment dwellers) which live immediately east of the 405. The poverty, the landlord abuse, and the image of danger persisted. North Hills’ Langdon Avenue in particular holds some of highest population densities in Los Angeles County. The demographic consists predominately of immigrants and children, plenty of them. Langdon is also home to Langdon Avenue Gang, or simply “La Langdon.” As gang violence reached its peak in the communities of Panorama City and North Hills in the 1990’s, then City Attorney Jim Hahn began pursuing the first court-backed injunctions against gangs--the quintessental in the United States. Hahn first applied this tool in my old neighborhood of Blythe Street in the neighboring community of Panorama City. He would later apply this policy against North Hills’ Columbus Street gang a couple of blocks away, and then ultimately against la Langdon. These areas would also be the site of the first LAPD designed “defensive space” policing methods (e.g. no left turns, street obstructions). While concrete barricades at the neighborhood’s perimeter functioned to curtail auto-oriented drug sales, they also served to forever create the perception of a human hazard in need of containment.
The roadblocks have long been removed but its fringe image in the Valley-based Daily News continues.
Many others however know of another North Hills, a place where neighbors circumvent any type of barrier, and in effect simultaneously transform front-yards into a place of cultural celebration and civic congregation. Like so many other impoverished communities in the L.A. metropolis, this is a site where the neighborhoods’ mothers provide the thrust to reclaim ownership to the street. Nearly a decade ago, the various mothers of Langdon organized themselves to a form a tightly-knit informal advocacy group known as Familias Unidas. Familias Unidas since then continues to play a critical role in assisting the formal governmental and policing structure, despite their migratory status.
To truly understand the spirit and tenacity of Familias Unidas, one must visit the block on the evening of
December 12. On this night more than 500 people, predominately apartment tenants, converge at the intersection of Orion and Langdon to begin Familias’ Virgen de Guadalupe two mile procession around the neighborhood. The multitude snowballs as it continues its passage along the thick landscape of dwelling units. Residents await at the frontage of many of these buildings with their humble roses for the la Virgen Morena. Almost every single Langdon resident, including the cholillos and the LAPD, partakes in this ritual. The streets come alive with the sounds of chants, the sound of tambora or mariachi (depending on the year’s funding), and the vigor of a community affirming their existence. What began as an unrehearsed and unofficial cavalcade consisting of a few women self-directing traffic and snaking across the autoscape has evolved into the fabric of a community’s agency. On this evening, the cars at the adjacent 405 freeway will simply have to wait--the traffic and city will have pay homage to them.
In America’s quintessential suburb of the San Fernando Valley, this ritual is repeated in numerous apartment-lined blocks of the Latin American immigrant diaspora. In Northridge’s compact Bryant Street neighborhood, or simply “Tijuanita,” cul-de-sacs become the natural stage for a tradition spanning back centuries. In Canoga Park and North Hollywood the scene is almost identical. These festivities commence the beautiful celebrations that will continue into January with posadas, and the nativity scenes that begin adorning homes. While designers and planners alike receive APA & AIA awards for creating “ground-breaking” pedestrian-oriented communities, in their own very ways, these neighborhoods have already formulated the template for us to follow. Join us for the Nacimiento Bike Tour in January 2008.

See all the Images from procession:

North Hills Virgen de Guadalupe Slideshow

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

gracias a DIOS x nuestra calle, la famosa LANGDON STREET we love so much may our Lord protect and free our soldiers and friends of the heart.