The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall in Los Angeles’s Crenshaw neighborhood opened in 1947, one of the first of its kind in the country. Since then, it’s looked like a typical mall, with a sprawling parking lot. But community members in the surrounding majority-Black neighborhood now want to transform the 43-acre site into something different—mixed-income housing, community gardens, and new worker-owned cooperatives, all run by a nonprofit that can return proceeds to the community.
The project, called Downtown Crenshaw, is part of a larger vision that has been in discussion for decades. “We’ve been talking about the need for pulling resources together to acquire real estate to be collectively managed, and to bring in businesses that truly serve the community, that are Black led and collectively minded and community centered,” says Damien Goodmon, a founding board member of Downtown Crenshaw.
Los Angeles is the least affordable city in the country, and Crenshaw sits next to Inglewood, a neighborhood where property values are surging. As the area gentrifies, there are concerns about people being forced to move out of the neighborhood because they can’t afford to stay. It’s the latest of a long list of pressures on Black Angelenos, from neighborhoods that were razed to build midcentury highways to disinvestment. “Whether it was in the ’60s, ’70s, ’90s, or today, we’ve been long asking for true community control and self-determination by Black folk, because in either situation, we’ve not been in control of our space,” Goodmon says.