Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Monday, September 28, 2009

A new European plaza in Bellflower??

Both pictures are from Bellflower Downtown.
The original legal title for Bellflower city in Southern California dates back to 1784 with one of the first Spanish land grants on which the herds of livestock were grazed. Bellflower developed on a piece of land bordered by three ranchos: Santa Gertrudes, Los Coyotes, and Los Cerritos. In 1869, the area known as Somerset Ranch, was comprised of 4,000 acres of what would later become Bellflower.
With a general store, a school, a post office, affordable lots, and ready access to Los Angeles, the population of Bellflower rose rapidly, increasing from an estimated 100 in 1908 to 1200 in 1912, and so did the support shops on Somerset Avenue.
During the 1970s, several Southeast Los Angeles cities were taking the benefits of bringing regional auto and shopping malls to their communities. Bellflower, however, opted to court the smaller Mom and Pop stores that had sustained it for decades. Rather than being part of a national chain, the mom and pop store offers a shopping alternative in a single location, to consumers who wish to deal with businesses that are native to a given city or town, and where the owners of the business are established members of the local community. Every small town contained a business district that was anchored around a locally owned general store. Today, the mom and pop store still thrives in a number of forms. Some of these corner stores are found in neighborhood business districts and are intended to meet consumer needs for a limited geographical area. The consequences of shopping mall and auto dealers rejection are explained in Bellflower’s web page:
“However, as retail shopping centers caught on, Bellflower’s choice to focus on smaller businesses left the community with no formal redevelopment plans and, worse still, no federal redevelopment funding. As a result, the City’s revenue streams dwindled, and in the early 1990s, the City sat on the verge on bankruptcy. Through fiscal conservatism and the establishment of a redevelopment strategy, the City today continues to make strides to play “catch up” with surrounding communities by attracting new businesses to town, improving business facades and upgrading infrastructure such as roads, medians, sidewalks, and public facilities”.(bold is mine).
My related story is about a friend of my husband, good and wealthy Bellflower citizen who bought a retails property in a corner of the historic street. He was painting the façade in the usual stucco palette, when the City stopped the works. He called my husband and asked him to have a meeting with the planner assigned, to see what the problem was and what was expected from him. I couldn’t avoid join the meeting.
We asked the planner why the City stopped the painting and he said this particular street was the historic street. And I could remember only the Theatre, because the rest was only a few old mom and pop shops, with no special historical characteristics, at least under my point of view. Then, we asked, what the City expects here?
And the planner took out a wide book from his plentiful library, a book of beautiful European plazas. We examined some pictures, and understood the idea was to build a fountain surrounded by landscape, in the mere corner of my husband’s friend, to propose a social space. All of this has to be paid by the retails’ owner.
Anyway, the idea was quite a temptation. We explained to the retails’ owner the situation, and I was so ingenuous to give as an example an orange tree patio inside a Museum in Buenos Aires, it would be nice, the planters, the fountain, the clay pots with the fragrance of the orange trees… I think everybody was dreaming except for the interested party. He asked us where the existing parking in the wide sidewalk would be relocated, if he built the plaza, (literally) “do they want me in bankruptcy?” “What do we do if the cars cannot park any more or only a few at the back?” “And orange trees? Do you want people eating oranges and throwing the peel in the sidewalk?” (It never occurred to me!).Community meetings? In a corner with retails? Oh, let’s call it loitering”.
This European plaza was never built, up till now. Though the City has initiated a wide range of community beautification projects throughout Bellflower, converting dilapidated lots into public parks, that have nothing like the Europeans ones in the planners’ book. It was just an illusion, the cars reality do not fit in this plaza.
And, there is something else. Do Bellflower need a European plaza? Why not a Mexican plaza, if after all the race & ethnic origin per 2000 Census was:
Hispanic 43.2%
White 46.1%
Black 9.7%
Asian 9.7%
Native American 0.9 %
Other 25.1%
All these races dispersed in the city, except for the white that are strictly concentrated in the City Council J
And the percentage of Hispanic has been increasing, considering Bellflower is too close to Latino majority of Downey, where they have the new shopping malls and the Film studios.
It is only one year for me to wait to 2010 Census and post again the new ethnic plaza I would suggest for Bellflower, but next time, please pick up a vacant lot!

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