Public Spaces at Florence & Normandie: An Essay

LA Metro 206 bus at Florence Ave & Normandie Ave

By Craig Dietrich

Today is the 20th anniversary of the LA “Rodney King” Riots that began, visibly, on television news showing footage from helicoptersof rioters attacking cars at the intersection of Florence Ave & Normandie Ave in South Los Angeles (at the time more commonly called South Central). Two weeks ago I visited the intersection to experience the location and reflect on the event, taking the LA Metro five miles South from where I live in West Adams. The intersection is a typical cross roads with franchise stores on the corners, about six lanes per street converging, and cars alternatively lining up as green lights turn to red. I tweeted the experience while sitting for a while onDowntown New York City Two Months After Zuccotti Park Raidthe Northwest side of the intersection, at a grassy plantern area that surrounds an AutoZone sign. I had meant the trip to be an isolated personal experience until Adam Liszkiewicz, who was following my tweets (and photos I was linking to), pointed out a relationship between the intersection and my last essay, here on NMDnet in January, 2012, about downtown New York City “dead spaces” that were created by police in response to Occupy Wall Street. This trip was now the second in a series.

While standing at the historical but otherwise nondescript Florence & Normandie intersection, the relationship between this intersection and downtown New York City wasn’t immediately apparent. In New York, urban spaces were made “dead” by police action–baracades, police presence, mobile command stations–and are clearly marked as such. Here in LA, the intersection is like any other: many cars pass by; commerce continues in the form of a couple gas stations, an AutoZone, and a convenience store; and a few people walk by. Upon closer inspection, however, there is connection between the two locales, albeit an inverse one. The dead spaces in New York City are created by barriers to financial buildings. At Florence & Normandie, the barriers are created by day-to-day activities. Most passing through this intersection are doing just that, and by car, and three of the four corners of the intersection are in support of that, as a place to consume gas and car parts. This dead space has been created by the developed “normal” American urban economy that supports a lifestyle of movement through decayed areas, not to it. Supporting this land use design are the same authority structures that people rose up against in 1992, that siphon taxes from homeowners in areas such as this along racial lines to create redevelopment elsewhere, while giving back to the community with occasional repaving and, of course, business incentives to Chevron and 76.

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