August 30, 2008 § 6 Comments
A little over a week ago, a friend of mine got mugged while bicycling on Ballona Creek. He was riding to work, commuting by bike as so many more of us could be doing in this city of fine weather. Ballona Creek has a Class I (separated from traffic) bike path, albeit one marked by an aesthetic of human-dwarfing concrete. He was mugged while riding the underpass below the 405 Freeway, a dark interlude on an otherwise blindingly bright path, one of several muggings that one day. One of the muggers actually apologized to him, giving him the impression the action was a gang initiation. At the same time, the police response was along the lines of “just don’t use the bike path.” My friend later discovered that his crime on the creek never got placed on the LAPD’s crime map – the reason being it didn’t have an address.
A mere few months ago, a nearby neighborhood was up in arms over similar crimes committed in their neighborhood, crimes which they attributed to young thugs who accessed their neighborhood via gates off the bike path. This community rallied the support of the local councilman to have their access point locked off, to the dismay of the bicycling and environmental communities seeking to beautify and encourage use of the creek and bike path. At the community meeting, the police indicated that locking the gate was their recommended solution. It was frustrating that tales of crimes against bicyclists also surfaced (as well as non-bike-path related neighborhood jumpings), but were ignored. (these stories and related posts can also be found on Streetsblog.)
And in between these two events, a local conservancy planning a new park which would provide a flash of beauty to the bike path’s current rather demoralizing aesthetics met with opposition from yet another neighborhood that feared the people who would be drawn to use the park. I believe that subsequent meetings have progressed better than the initial one.
My point is that fear is alive and well on Ballona, and other, creeks. We have a conflict over land management, one fueled by very real, frightening experiences and a larger collective rejection of our public spaces and neglect for our youth. We need and deserve better responses from government than a bunker mentality that writes off open space and access for legitimate users. We need to reclaim and invest in our public lands, and in our youth. These kids, pressured into committing crimes by older kids, lack positive structures, supervision and role models in their immediate spheres. We fail them with our feeble-minded lack of interest in them, and members of the public pay the price. What is also surprising is that Ballona already has many legitimate users and that still didn’t act as a preventive. Obviously we need to take action to increase their safety: patrols, beautification, lights in places like the 405 underpass, creekside development. Bad urbanism breeds the worst behavior in the most abandoned landscapes. So let’s move forward with occupying and reclaiming them. The Conservancies, Culver City, and some community groups from Mid-City to Playa del Rey have stepped up to the plate with good ideas and investments. Now, LAPD, City of LA, and adults everywhere, we need you to step up too.
Stay tuned for some crazy – and not so crazy – ideas for a Ballona Greenway.