Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) officially kicked off its ArtPlace Community Development Investments (CDI) Program grant at a community reception on October 19, 2015 at the beautiful James Irvine Japanese Garden at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo. Over 100 community members, artists, foundations and government staff came to celebrate this exciting new opportunity for LTSC to add a new tool to its community development and planning toolbox. The interest and excitement expressed by those in attendance – as well as those unable to attend – was overwhelming and inspiring. We were humbled to have two incredibly talented local artists – Alison De La Cruz and Traci Kato-Kiriyama – work with us to curate an interactive historical Little Tokyo photo collage and to frame the rich, diverse Little Tokyo context that this grant seeks to elevate.
Cultural Asset Mapping
The overarching neighborhood goals for LTSC’s CDI funded work are to ensure a sustainable Little Tokyo for future generations by highlighting the significance of Little Tokyo to the identity of a multi-ethnic Los Angeles, building local power to exert community control over the destiny of Little Tokyo, and elevating and assisting Little Tokyo’s existing cultural assets. In light of these goals, our cultural asset mapping process seeks to answer the questions What makes Little Tokyo Little Tokyo?, and What are Little Tokyo’s challenges and assets?
One of the first considerations when planning our cultural asset mapping process was how do we not add to the community’s planning fatigue and refrain from an oversaturation and redundancy of asks while still meaningfully engaging the local base. As a result, LTSC’s cultural asset mapping process will include the collection and distillation of existing community asset maps and projects into one, comprehensive and publicly accessible “map,” in addition to both quantitative data analysis and qualitative research to help understand the state of the neighborhood and how it has changed over the last several years. It is our hope to engage artists at various stages of our asset mapping process including in helping us capture personal stories of Little Tokyo from the community, capturing other important qualitative “data” that is not usually reflected in traditional data sources, and in creatively presenting research findings to the community in interesting, engaging and fun new ways.
It is our hope that these asset mapping efforts will allow us to begin to explore and understand how creative placemaking can be used in a hot market like Little Tokyo to strengthen our existing, culturally-rich and vibrant community in the face of gentrification and displacement pressures.
Lessons and Insights
These first several months have definitely been a learning and information-gathering phase for LTSC. We have greatly appreciated the space created within the CDI Program for grantees to take time to educate ourselves, assess our places, and develop our goals before jumping into project and program implementation.
This has allowed us to stop and RE-think how we engage in community planning and development at each stage of our work, and identify opportunities for us to inject fresh perspectives and ideas into our established processes. We are striving to model the type of community engagement process we want others – both public and private sectors – to employ when coming into Little Tokyo. The more we can be a part of building community power to participate and showing others how to responsibly and respectfully engage with the community, the closer we can move towards a community-determined future for Little Tokyo.
Moving forward, LTSC is excited to learn more from the other CDI grantees as well as from other ArtPlace grantees and creative placemaking organizations and individuals across the country. Specifically, we hope to gain insights around developing clear yet flexible processes for identifying and prioritizing projects that will best advance both our organization’s and neighborhood’s community development and planning goals. And, of course, we can’t wait to see all of this preparation and planning come to fruition in visible and tangible creative placemaking projects that have a real impact on Little Tokyo!