Problems with Little Tokyo Community

Traylor White Martha Matsuoka 10 /28/11 CSP 23: Los Angeles from local to global Little Tokyo: Reintegrating Culture and Developing Urban Nature Little Tokyo is a historic community with a strong sense for Japanese culture; however, as the housing developments and transit projects continue to grow making Little Tokyo a residential and business oriented neighborhood will Little Tokyo lose that sense of historical community and culture?

If community activists in Little Tokyo continue to have a prominent influence, they can preserve the history and culture while providing the neighborhood with social change and developmental reform, which is an integral part in a growing community. Little Tokyo benefits from urban nature and built environment in the neighborhood, for they have positive environmental impacts while helping solve many social problems in today’s society and revitalizing Japanese American involvement in Little Tokyo.

Culture is a defining characteristic of Little Tokyo, so it is the community activists’ job to keep a strong connection with Japanese heritage in order to preserve the local historic neighborhood in Los Angeles from drastic change. In essence, it is important to remember global origins to achieve community action. This was one of the earliest realizations of the Japanese Americans, for they began in 1986 to try and preserve part of Little Tokyo through community action.

It was the Little Tokyo Community Development Advisory Committee that campaigned and established Little Tokyo’s historical district on East First Street. Some of the oldest Japanese American businesses in the country are on First Street, and so the rich culture plays a big role in establishing a sense of community in Little Tokyo. (“The Paradox of Dispersal”, Dean S. Toji and Karen Umemoto) Local policymakers wanted to make sure that despite whatever happens, there would always be a Japanese influence in Los Angeles. It takes global customs and similar interests to create a common movement for change.

Along with the new historical district created, there was also a campaign that raised thirty million dollars in public and private funds for the revitalization of the Nishi Hongwanji Temple. This costly project is a perfect example of community action shaped the developmental reform. As long as the Japanese Americans feel they need to fully integrate their culture into Los Angeles, these global minded initiatives will have public funding. The Museum of Contemporary Art and the Japanese American National Museum are two other examples of the developmental reform due to culture.

These types of developments cement the history and culture into the heart of the neighborhood. It is important for Little Tokyo to establish their communal identity more than ever because of the speed in which it’s becoming a residential and business centered community. (“The Paradox of Dispersal”, Dean S. Toji and Karen Umemoto) If the community organizers of Little Tokyo had not taken steps to secure certain parts of the neighborhood from commercial development, there might be no Little Tokyo.

Another major challenge that Little Tokyo faces is the lack of public affordable housing for Japanese American residents. The historical district of Little Tokyo is safe from commercial development, but in the rest of the neighborhood mass development is the main social challenge. Rich developers saw Little Tokyo as an opportunity to make money, so slowly but surly the public affordable housing got replaced by lavish luxury apartments. For the most part, young white professionals are gentrifying the Japanese residents of Little Tokyo. Field Trip to Little Tokyo) Take the 717 Olympic housing complex for an example. There is a problem in creating housing that costs 2,500 dollars a month, for it gentrifies the existing families that in some cases have been neighborhood residents for generations. There has been community involvement to try and create more affordable housing in the neighborhood to offset the luxury apartments. The Little Tokyo Service Center just helped build the Far East Building complex in order to create sixteen more housing units and two storefront units out of a re-used building. Little Tokyo Serive Center) It is in the community’s main interest to publicly house as many Japanese American residents as possible, for if community activists’ main goal is to associate with Japanese culture and the history of Little Tokyo they need an audience who will respect and value the same ideals. There have been efforts to preserve affordable housing and community space in the neighborhood as well as on the regional scale through community action and organizations. One of the earliest and most significant examples as the action by college students who fixed up the run down affordable housing for the elderly. By saving the affordable housing complex of the elderly, these college students preserved the history and culture of Little Tokyo by saving it from new development. More recently, residents have faced more and more gentrification across southern California. An organization named Asian Pacific Islander Housing helps house gentrified community members. API housing has opened 350 units, and 100,000 square feet of community space in the past few years.

The incorporation of community space along with the housing is important for creating a chance for social interaction and limited business development. (Little Tokyo Service Center Website) Common space and the concept urban nature promote social change to work with new developments to better the community and many times it can implemented in such a way that all ethnicities and classes benefit. Unfortunately Little Tokyo does not incorporate urban nature into their neighborhood, and this is a concern to the community activists.

There are no parks in Little Tokyo; this is a huge problem because green space and urban nature is invaluable to a community. In this neighborhood, a park would give a public space to enhance the already close community and rich culture by giving residents a place to congregate and socialize. The closest park is City Hall Park in downtown that residents of Little Tokyo can still go to for leisure, but it does not serve the community or culture of Little Tokyo. A park in Little Tokyo turns the neighborhood green, and provides centralization, which is vital in sustaining a lasting community. Field Trip to Little Tokyo) The addition of a park in Little Tokyo offers many social benefits like equality of living and an environmental voice in a developed neighborhood. Community planners have been pushing for a park, but there is no practical way to provide one. In the neighborhood there is no green space, which has major downsides. There is no place for children to run and play, and the public school system in Little Tokyo is suffering partly due to this lack of green space. These students and the members of the community deserve a public park rather than having to congregating in open space in the built environment.

They have to be creative in their urban land use in accommodation for nature in the neighborhood by not only focusing on environmental scales but also the built environment. (“The Face of Little Tokyo Is Changing” by Valentina Cardenans and Gayle Pollard-Terry) Since Little Tokyo is all developed, community leaders need to be innovative in their ways of incorporating urban nature. The opening of the Toriumi Plaza in Little Tokyo next year will have a connection to nature through the trees, planters, and open space.

It is being built on top of a parking structure, so this project shows it is possible to integrate environment into an urban neighborhood. It will provide 51,830 square feet of green plants and a place to hang out. The environmental parking structure gives a physical and social connection between Little Tokyo and the Civic Center. The Toriumi Plaza bridges the gaps between different communities in Los Angeles, which is a key problem that urban planners are working on constantly. If this development is a success, it might mean the expansion of environmental projects in Little Tokyo and Downtown.

Community developers notice the important potential of the development that the Little Tokyo Historical Society named it after a famous activist in Little Tokyo, Reverend Howard Noboru Toriumi. Toriumi was a community activist that founded what later became today’s influential Little Tokyo Community Advisory Council. (“New Toriumi Plaza Adds Open Space in Little Tokyo” by Brigham Yen) Hopefully this plan will inspire more community movements for green space in Little Tokyo. Lille Tokyo has a built environment that’s focused around cultural development and community organization.

Local developments like the Japanese Village Plaza send a clear message that community action is being taken to restore the Japanese involvement in the center of Japanese American Culture. The Japanese Village Plaza rented out to locally owned Japanese businesses while they did not let chains into the Plaza. Chains cannot participate in community, and so the hope is that more local businesses will bring back some of the communal aspects of the recently gentrified neighborhood. Community developers also incorporated Japanese culture in the design of this development by making it pedestrian only just as in a traditional Japanese market. Field Trip to Little Tokyo) There are other instances in the Little Tokyo community trying to reestablish the Japanese American occupation of the neighborhood though new development and physical activity. The gym and recreation center project helped connect the unorganized Japanese American community back to its historic past through basketball. Basketball is deeply rooted in Japanese American history with leagues starting up as early as the 1930s. Basketball is more than a sport in the Japanese American community; it’s a way of life.

After fourteen year of struggling for the rights to build the 35,000 square foot fifteen million dollar center, the Little Tokyo Service Center was approved to start developing the old parking structure. For the Japanese American community members, this development was as much of a push for recreational space as it was to protect Little Tokyo’s cultural identity and economic stability because it was seen as the best way to invite the Japanese American youth community back into Little Tokyo. This new development builds community by organizing over 10,000 residents in leagues and tournaments.

With the gentrification of many Japanese American families the true importance of this development was clear. Through the basketball leagues, the Japanese Americans continue to connect with the history and culture of Little Tokyo once again. (“At Long Last, Little Tokyo to Get Its Gym” by Teresa Watanabe) The leagues can lead to a further sense of reestablished community and the influx of many Japanese Americans back into Little Tokyo. Weather it is through new development or community organization, Little Tokyo has done everything possible to preserve the history and culture.

The Little Tokyo Hisotical District and the local businesses are a perfect example of this preservation. The initiatives by community organizations to house the gentrified Japanese Americans have also helped save the historic society. There are many challenges that face Little Tokyo from urban nature and built environment standpoint. Organizations have done a great job at incorporating the built environment into the social dynamic of the neighborhood, but parks are necessary for the success of an urban community because of the social and environmental benefits.

Little Tokyo has a long history of community development, and it continues today ran by the fear of commercial development and the loss of Japanese American culture. Bibliography A Community Building Corporation. “LTSC Programs. ” Little Tokyo Service Center. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. . Watanabe, Teresa. “Little Tokyo Gym | At Long Last, Little Tokyo to Get Its Gym – Los Angeles Times. ” Featured Articles From The Los Angeles Times. 24 Sept. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. . Yen, Brigham. “New Toriumi Plaza Adds Open Space in Little Tokyo | Brigham Yen. Brigham Yen | Urban Los Angeles Development Blog. Urban Los Angeles Development Blog, 13 Oct. 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. . Umemoto, Karen. “Ethnic Continuity & Community Development Among Japanese Americans in Little Tokyo. ” The Paradox of Dispersal. By Dean S. Toji. Vol. 1. 21-45. Print. Cardenans, Valentina, and Gayle Pollard-Terry. “The Face of Little Tokyo Is Changing. ” LA Times. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. . I also used the Field Trip to Little Tokyo for background info and specific examples.