Author: Hannah Fishbein
At a community meeting held at Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, local residents came together for a panel-led discussion on their changing neighborhood. They also raised a question of how to create and support neighborhoods that reflect and honor both longtime residents and key cultures of the community, while also encouraging economic vitality.
The panel members included Director of the Eviction Defense Network Elena Popp, community organizer and activist Shmuel Gonzales and Occidental Urban and Environmental Policy Professor Steve Zimmer.
Much of the discussion among the panelists and residents concerned the importance of what it meant to be a good neighbor.
For Popp, the term means more than saying good morning to the person next door.
“Really, being a good neighbor means making sure that your neighbors are okay and that they aren’t being displaced,” Popp said. “It means that they know where to get help, and if you can help them, you should.”
As a Lincoln Heights resident, Popp protects the residents living in her neighborhood by providing legal counsel for evicted tenants and disseminating information about renter’s rights.
“It’s about access to information,” she said.
Other community members agreed. Alaxia, a 50-year resident of Cypress Park, said at the meeting that education on community issues is crucial to building strong neighborhoods.
“If we know what’s going on in our communities and have all of the information, we’ll be able to decide what is best for us,” Alaxia said. “We need to empower each other with information.”
Being a good neighbor also requires community members to identify and build relationships based on cross-cultural values through intergroup dialogue, Gonzales said.
But according to Zimmer, while the basis of being a good neighbor seems fairly straightforward, Occidental’s role amid the gentrification of Northeast Los Angeles is somewhat unclear, especially in light of its acquisition of a retail space on York Avenue last winter.
He said that creating an environment that enables these kinds of discussions to occur can be challenging and lack legitimacy in the face of underrepresentation of all groups. The presence of privilege impacts the ability of members of a diverse community to interact with one another and engage in dialogue.
“Choosing to live in a neighborhood is very different than being from a neighborhood,” Zimmer said. “When you move into a neighborhood, you shouldn’t think you have the right to take over the neighborhood counsel. There is a baseline disrespect that may not be intentional but is damaging.”
Zimmer believes that, in this regard, the college primarily positively contributes to the diversity and development of the community.
“The public service program and community organizing programs like [Urban and Environment Policy Institute] establish great relationships between Oxy and the community,” Zimmer said.
Still, Zimmer believes Occidental can do more to facilitate healthy relationships between community members. While he notes there are a number of ways Occidental can support the community, he suggested that the college should invest in local high schools, such as by creating full scholarships for low-income students in nearby Title I schools.
Panelists and community members agreed that access to information about their neighborhoods is crucial to creating healthy communities. However, Zimmer underscored that issues surrounding gentrified communities are intense and will not be solved overnight.
Based on the demands of residents, more community meetings will be held in the future to inform and facilitate further discussion on how to be better neighbors.
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