Skid Row and its surrounding communities often are labeled with associations of sprawling concrete and warehouses, rampant homelessness, drug use and destitution. Though green spaces and trees aren’t a big part of the landscape (yet), this neighborhood is a vibrant corner of the city that offers a place to begin again to its residents who often have nowhere else to go. There is a thriving art scene, colorful community and a palpable sense of altruism here that often goes uncelebrated by the mainstream.
To support the area’s continual evolution, last Sunday TreePeople partnered with Industrial District Green to care for shrubby yew pines planted in 2009 by local residents along Alameda Street.
The December 6th event galvanized Angelenos who may never have the chance to meet, never mind work together to green a community of LA that needs it most—Skid Row’s backyard. UCLA Environmental studies students, repeat volunteers, first-timers and Skid Row residents worked side-by-side after a short demonstration to learn how to clean and mulch the tree wells. Armed with this knowledge, the group seized the day to re-stake, water, weed and mulch the 5-year-old trees.
“I was brought out here by a love for my neighborhood—for Downtown Los Angeles in general—and for Skid Row in particular,” Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Councilmember and Skid Row resident Eric Dean said.
It was a truly beautiful experience to see of the power of trees uniting people of all ages and backgrounds to heal our cities hand-in-hand. Poverty and privilege dissolved as the volunteers worked in harmony to care for the few trees dotting the street. Trash littered the sidewalk and traffic roared past, but the moving display of cooperation and oneness owned the day.
“Trees and physical atmosphere are a big part of how people feel about themselves, the hopes they have and the area they live in—for their future. It’s difficult in urban environments to create a green space and that kind of atmosphere,” Dean said.
“People find concrete urban environments to be depressing and saddening. You can find a balance between the harshness of the hard edges of concrete, steel, and glass and the softness of green, of trees, of grassy areas and plantings. Trying to create more of that balance in Downtown Los Angeles is worthwhile and I hope we can get more people involved,” he shared.
Though local businesses gave initial permission for the planting, there is “no ongoing care for these trees,” TreePeople’s Regional Manager Pamela Gibson said. Due to the area’s heavily developed concrete landscape it has proven difficult for the trees to flourish without outside help. So Gibson rolled up early in the morning to provide tools and water and led the event alongside Industrial District Green’s Gabrielle Newmark.
Our relationship with Industrial District Green dates back to when Newmark, a longtime TreePeople volunteer, won TreePeople’s Good Maker Green City Challenge. Her win earned her a grant from TreePeople, so we fulfilled her vision for a greener Downtown by planting 27 shade trees and 238 field sage plants with the help of over 100 volunteers. Since then, Newmark went on to found Industrial District Green with TreePeople Citizen Forester Katherine McNenny to bring more trees and nature to Skid Row and work with residents and volunteers to transform the landscape.
Looking down Alameda Street on this sunny Saturday, it was clear this transformation is well underway. We’re grateful for the chance to work with such diverse groups and collaborate with other organizations in this space—we all look forward to more opportunities to inspire and create change in the future!