How Metro’s New K-Line is Already Transforming the Crenshaw District

As the Metro line begins to alter this community, nonprofit Destination Crenshaw is cementing “a testament to the past, present, and future of L.A.’s Black community”
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When work began on the Metro’s K-line, which came to be known as the Crenshaw/LAX Line project, residents of the L.A. neighborhood that was finally connecting to the rest of the city via transit immediately understood thousands of new faces would soon flood directly into the heart of South L.A.’s Black community. Infrastructure development is often a double-edged sword: While it may provide economic stimulation and opportunity, it can also put minority communities at risk of being pushed out. And once gentrification takes hold, it can often contribute to the erasure of a community’s history and culture. 

Plans for the K-line were announced in 2014. Back then, L.A. City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson said he felt there should be a concerted effort to strengthen the business community and revitalize the Crenshaw corridor when the line starts service. This is how Destination Crenshaw, a private nonprofit and “unapologetically Black project” came to fruition in 2017 and has since worked to cement its vision of cultural permanence in the South L.A. community. When the project is completed in (ideally) the summer of 2023, 1.3 miles of Crenshaw Boulevard will be transformed into 10 pocket parks lined with 800 newly planted trees and stamped with hundreds of commissioned pieces by Black artists. 

The $100 million dollar project is funded through both public and private sources. Metro has contributed more than $15 million to the DC project, making it the top donor. Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson said it was “a fitting investment for this board to make to augment and enhance the train and make it an asset that increases the vitality of the existing community and doesn’t require a new community to come in to create economic vitality” in a 2019 meeting with the METRO Board regarding their donation.

Destination Crenshaw, Sankofa Park (Credit: Destination Crenshaw)

Crenshaw Boulevard is the cultural and commercial spine of the Black community in South L.A. A multicultural hub of nightlife and music was born out of the new influx of Black and Japanese residents after racially restrictive covenants were outlawed in 1948. By the 1980s, lowrider parades were effectively shutting down the street every Sunday evening until police began enforcing restrictions in the late 90s. In 2000, street art collective Rocking the Nation created a series of murals now known as the Great Wall of Crenshaw. These trace Black history through images and icons of those who have impacted the culture throughout the ages. Crenshaw remains the epicenter of the past, present, and future of the South L.A. Black community.

In an interview with LAMag, Destination Crenshaw President and COO Jason Foster detailed the organization’s vision for the corridor, the jobs and opportunities it will create for the community, and the ways he hopes greater L.A. can support its mission. 

“We see public art as a way of stamping the community with the cultural relevance of the current existing resident”

Born and raised in Tennessee, Foster has demonstrated a passion for community engagement throughout his career at various non-profits. He earned a degree in finance at Howard University before spending time as the Project Manager for Impact Brooklyn in New York. In 2013, he moved to L.A., spending seven years at River L.A. as an Operations Manager and the Director of Strategic Partnerships before ultimately joining the Destination Crenshaw project in 2020.  

While Foster is not a Crenshaw native, he saw the project’s potential to catalyze Black economic development and set an example for urban cultural stamping across the country and “had to be a part of it.”

“We love our community,” Foster tells LAMag. “A lot of times, the intrinsic values we have as a Black community aren’t shown externally and that’s because of disinvestment and systemic issues that typically arise in Black urban spaces. But we love who we are. We know that through showing our pride and aesthetics and creativity we can bring that love we have inside our bodies into our spaces.”

Sankofa Park - Artis Lane
Sankofa Park – Artis Lane (Credit: Destination Crenshaw)

Destination Crenshaw features artists like Maren Hassinger, Charles Dickson, and Artis Lane alongside countless other talented Black artists in a variety of media. Murals, sculptures, illustrations, and culturally stamped infrastructure are interspersed throughout the outdoor museum, celebrating Blackness, the history of Crenshaw, and the future of the community. 

In addition to a 70% local hiring requirement in its construction contract, Destination Crenshaw already has shown a far-reaching commitment to uplifting its community. At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, as uncertainty was plaguing community businesses, the organization created DC Thrive. The community technical assistance program supports local small businesses, entrepreneurs and creators by providing micro-grants and connects them to funding opportunities, like the Paycheck Protection Program.       

DC Thrive also partnered with several outside organizations to connect local businesses with support. Today, they’ve expanded their network and are in contact with nearly 700 local businesses. The program sponsored paid internships with graduates from the TEC Leimert Nxt Lvl program, which trains young people in marketing and social media skills, to work with Crenshaw businesses like Jordan’s Hot Dogs and Sole Folks.  

(Credit: Destination Crenshaw)

“It’s about ensuring we are providing the amount of research and intentional investment that’s needed to provide some permanence for these business owners as the community continues to improve,” Foster explains. He says that DC Thrive will continue to work with business owners and entrepreneurs to scale their operations as an ongoing investment in their community for the foreseeable future. 

After the museum’s completion in 2023, Foster projects Destination Crenshaw will remain in tune and responsive to the needs of the community where it was born. Committing to the journey of a full reparative development project, its leaders hope is to infuse and gain more investment and more affordable housing opportunities and economic development, and sustainability through public art access and tree planting.”

Bot the project, like anything at this scale, does have detractors. Activists, politicians, and community members recognize that art, aesthetics, and landscape revitalization can only go so far in creating permanent economic support for the area. In fact, many feared the $100 million dollar project would negatively impact Black businesses and push out homeowners even more than the Metro line would on its own. 

In this key moment, some community members remain apprehensive, as attracting external investors to an area that has historically faced issues with disenfranchisement and crime sounds like a means to dilute the needs of community members and their businesses. Destination Crenshaw is only a small fire in the melting of the discriminatory iceberg on which America is anchored, and many still fear the negative impact of gentrification of the neighborhood. 

Destination Crenshaw, Sankofa Park (Credit: Destination Crenshaw)

In a sprawling city filled with so many distinct communities and neighborhoods, preserving the cultural integrity of minority communities is essential for maintaining the identity and history of those spaces. Destination Crenshaw and Metro saw the formation of the K-Line as an opportunity to reassert Crenshaw Boulevard as the past, present, and future cultural hub for the community it serves. 

To learn more about the project, visit destinationcrenshaw.la.

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