under the banner of heaven

October 5, 2011

EAST VILLAGE ARTS DISTRICT: IS ITS STAR BEING STRANGLED BY BANNERS

originally posted online here

Living in a project area overseen by the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency/Downtown Long Beach Associates collusion means that a quick stop for morning coffee becomes a run-in with city officials and their semi-private partners taking turns congratulating each other at a sidewalk podium.

The latest surprise ceremony popped up last Tuesday in the foyer between the Berlin Café and Fingerprints on 4th Street, where the topic on everyone’s mouth was the newest banner program for the East Village Arts District. The first installment of their colorful schemes and geometric numeral 4’s was already hanging on the lampposts outside.

With this little ritual, the territory along six blocks of 4th Street between Long Beach Boulevard and Alamitos Avenue is now its own certified section of the East Village. Try not to confuse it with the single block of Linden Avenue between Broadway and 1st Street, where the East Village Art Walk happens every second Saturday—or any of the other streets that, although mostly residential, technically reside within this district’s boundaries.

The people behind all this banner-hanging have an understandable objective. They want to bring attention to this heavily upgraded area of Long Beach’s downtown and hope that festive decorations will spark a coming out party of sorts for the $1.5 million spent on improvements to the strip in the last two years.

But by drawing distinctions among the neighborhoods of an area as small as the East Village, the banners create a separatist mentality that risks becoming divisive—especially as the useable portions of the this downtown quarter continue their rapid expansion.

In the time it’s taken the RDA to create and release the 4th Street banners, the same east-west stretch of 3rd Street has also improved its facades and welcomed new arts-oriented businesses. The development on 3rd Street is building a much-welcomed bridge between the traditional heart of the East Village on Broadway and 1st Street and the undeniable northern expansion along 4th Street.

Rather than rushing to show off their success on 4th, it might have been wise to exercise some patience so that 3rd Street could be included. A banner program like that would have created more connective tissue between the streets. Instead, the current 4th Street banner program insinuates that its segment of town is so far from what we think of as the East Village that it needs to be identified by its own “4th Street” insignia. But it’s not and it doesn’t.

Since it won’t make sense to create similar banners for 3rd Street as it continues to emerge (lest it appear that our street signs are ineffective), an all-encompassing “East Village” banner seems to be inevitable. So why are we confusing people with this in-between that will soon be undone?

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