Thursday, July 13, 2006

MacArthur Park: Not Just for Dealers and Fake I.D. Peddlers Anymore

The transformation of MacArthur Park over the past five years has been nothing short of monumental, the L.A. Times writes in today's paper. Several unrelated events came together to make it happen: The rise in economic power of immigrant Korean residents in K-Town. The decline of civil strife in Central America, which was spilling over via immigrants in the U.S. The "broken windows" policing policies of Police Chief William Bratton. The escalating value of real estate across the county. And more:

By the early 1990s, MacArthur Park was becoming "almost 'Blade Runner'-like," said David Marquez, a former City Council field deputy who is now a consultant to the nonprofit group Carecen.
The park wasn't merely the average open-air drug market. It was a regional crime emporium. Drugs, stolen goods, fake IDs and prostitutes — "anything and everything" illegal was available, Officer Mike Wang said.
In 1991 and 1992, homicides in Rampart peaked at world-class levels of savagery, with 138 deaths in 1992 alone. Bodies were found floating in the lake. At one point, detectives made their own grid map of the park showing every rock and tree, just trying to keep track of all the murder scenes.
Police were defeated by what Lt. Paul Vernon called "the overwhelming-ness of it all." Rampart officers were stretched to the limit. In 1991, they handled 50% more calls per officer than their counterparts would a decade later. It took them hours to respond to low-priority calls.

The late-90s Rampart scandal shook the city, yet didn't reverse the gains seen in the MacArthur Park area (part of the LAPD's Rampart district):
Larger market forces were beginning to close in on Rampart. The area was now lodged between two of the hottest development markets in the region: downtown and K-Town. A subway ran through it. It had new schools, classy old buildings and newly restored neon signs. Home Depot opened in 2001, then a Starbucks.
There was also the park — the mirror lake, the curving paths, the long shadows of palm trees striping the grass and the red-tailed hawks bathing at the crown of the fountain.

The Daily News Daily News also looks at the MacArthur Park comeback:

Connie Rice, chairwoman of the Blue Ribbon Rampart Review Panel, said its rebirth can become a model for collaborative approaches by police in other communities.

"The tipping point was when the police realized the whole community was not only with them, they were out here helping them," she said. "(The community) wanted to participate in the cleanup. They could see what LAPD was doing and they appreciated it."

If you haven't been around MacArthur Park recently, it sparkles these days. (And Langer's is just around the corner, so you really owe it to yourself to visit.)

(Vintage postcard via Yesterday L.A.)

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