Urban farmstead: Spotted these pretty pigs on a shady, winding dead-end street in Highland Park, across from where we attended a party.
Chicken Corner remains hopeful that the informal swap meet at Echo Park Lake on Sundays can be relocated in a way that minimizes economic impact on vendors. But I also appreciate the thoughts of readers who argue for a more tolerant attitude toward the people who pitch blankets and sell dolls, computer screens, whatnots, and grilled meats at the park.
One reader, Benjamin Cole, who lives in Elysian Valley, sent me the following today:
I liked your thoughtful posts on Echo Park and markets. As a frequent visitor to Thailand (my wife lives there), I often see informal markets and street vendors (especially push-cart food vendors). I think such activities are necessary to allow people without capital to start a business. Who has the money to open up a restaurant in Los Angeles? I think it would take at least $200k, and of course much more in most cases. In Thailand, any good cook with a push cart and a large stainless steel pot can cook up soup and start selling. I think a $10 license for street vending is the way to go. Get ready for lots of really good cheap food and lower-cost goods. We will sacrifice some sanity on the sidewalks. But I think we will gain eyes and ears on the street, and more economic opportunity. More color.
One thing to note about Benjamin's note is that he advocates a license -- part of the issue with the swap meet is that the vendors don't pay fees other vendors are required to pay. More important, he is not advocating that the selling be done in the park. Chicken Corner is all in favor of allowing underfunded entrepreneurs to set up "shop." The question is where.
In any case, this coming week is the scaled back Lotus Festival. The unlicensed swap meet vendors will probably be pushed out, for this week at least.
Regarding the Lotus Fest, my favorite event, the Dragon Boat Races, has been canceled for this year. It's turning into the Festival of Subtractions -- take away the lotus, take away the dragon boat races, take away three quarters of previous budgets...leaves an odd sum.
On Sunday, July 4, I visited Echo Park Lake briefly, on the heels of Thursday's Echo Park Improvement Association meeting at which strategies for ending the swap meet were discussed. It was a brief visit at about 4 pm. I had to be at the airport at 5:15 to pick up my husband and daughter who'd been visiting in Michigan. What I saw: the market had spread well beyond the boat house, almost to the southern end of the east side of the park. I also saw numerous police officers, as had been promised by Senior Lead Officer Bobby Hill of the Northeast Division. If anyone had been planning to sell fireworks, they certainly had been foiled. My ambivalent opposition to the swap meet remained in place as I got back into my car.
But I was very today interested to hear the point of view of my neighbor and friend Angela Wood regarding the market.
Angela, who has lived in the neighborhood for at least 11 years, wrote:
Dear, Jenny, As a good friend I value your opinion about the controversy regarding Echo Park Lake. I took a walk down there on the 4th of July, in the heat, to see what it was "all about." I had had mixed feelings, having seen 6th street on the weekends lined with piles of clothes, toxic looking electronics and plastic toys, and also worrying that the negative response is somehow racist or classist since the majority of the people selling appear to be immigrants from "South of the Border."
I had a lovely time that day [July 4 at Echo Park Lake]. I snapped some photos, had some spanish conversation, walked around the lake picking up very little trash, stopped and did yoga in my favorite lake-side spot. I completed the circle near The Revolutionary Communist Party booth where I spoke to an activist about the revolution and Marxism. I smelled the yummy carnitas and steak cooking on the grill, and bought a piece of corn. I checked out what the people were selling. A lot of "junk" but some good, useful and eclectic things. I purchased 3 VHS tapes for 3 dollars, some old kids movies for my daughter. It was clearly the beginnings of what could become a nice little weekend market - it was well contained, neat, clean, colorful and friendly.
When I have visited other countries, France, Italy, Mexico, Holland, Germany, England the highlights are always stumbling upon some little flea market, that often coincides with local music, food and socializing. Portobello Market in London had to begin somehow. Even the Communist I spoke with thought it was cool: "People are just trying to make a living. We like that." After all - these are the people who USE the park, there must be a demand for it, or they wouldn't be there. I think the response to this market in Echo Park Lake, would be different if the vendors were selling hip trinkets and antiques. So, I think I am going to take my garage sale items down there this weekend and see what I can get...
I am fairly certain there are Fellow Travelers in the neighborhood who oppose the market. As long as we don't have all the discussants saying what they are expected to say, we'll have a real debate.
Photos by Angela Wood; July 4, 2010
During the "townhall" portion of a meeting of the Echo Park Improvement Association this evening, the feeling in the room was quite urgent that something be done about the informal/not legal every-Sunday flea market at Echo Park Lake. For about two years various neighborhood activists have been trying to get the city to shut down the open-air market, at which unlicensed vendors sell all kinds of unlicensed goods. Toys, clothes, batteries. Stuff. A majority (though certainly not huge) of the activists are white and middle class, and most of the vendors are Latino and probably poor. It's a zig-zag border between the two groups. Like so many land-use disputes, what looks on the surface like a racial divide turns out to be a class issue. It's one of those things where you choose sides no matter what you do, no matter what happens.
Last night, lots of strategies were discussed, including filing claims against the city due to blocked access to parkland. Senior Lead Officer Bobby Hill of the Northeast Division volunteered to increase police presence at the park, "because it's Echo Park," he said, even though the lake is technically Rampart Division's responsibility. The rep for Rampart was more subdued. Alejandra Marroquin, deputy for Eric Garcetti, at one point told the room she would not discuss specifics because there appeared to be journalists present (spies!).
At last night's meeting, at Barlow Hospital, a couple of residents brought pictures that they said showed a man with a machete, taken Saturday night in the park. (They gave the pics to the neighborhood attorney, Andre Quintero.) They said machete-man was extorting money to reserve park spaces. Ropes and string were being used as demarcation.
Someone pointed out that the park is closed after 10 p.m. Which makes machete-man's late-night presence in the park an enforceable code violation!
I also heard tell of hipsters who had started joining the paisanos, selling their hipster wares alongside the tube socks. Maybe they had black socks and bootleg Afghan Whigs cassettes.
The police officer from Rampart Division told the crowd that they should call 311 to report code violations in the park. But, he added, if you see a guy with a machete, call 911.
(Postcard image via the Echo Park Historical Society.)
It's all about the way people want to live. Everyone wants parks and green space. But some people want their green space as pastoral as the city will allow -- with extremely limited commerce; they want sporting behavior and picnics = leisure. And some people want to use it for selling; they thrive on the hustle-bustle, and the crowd. Some of the latter group come from countries, like Mexico, where it's traditional to buy and sell in the plazas. Perhaps some of these people literally do not have a day off to go to a park and do nothing but play. Others hew to the Anglo tradition of parks for recreation only, with exceptions for recreation-supporting sales like snacks and boat tickets. It's two traditions clashing, and the city caught between.
In all honesty, it's very hard to get the tone right on this story. My own feelings are all over the place -- there seems to be no getting around the fact that at the core of the park-use debate is a clash of cultural values. I feel great sympathy for people who are striving and struggling at the same time to get a foothold in this country. I think that being PC is a very good thing, and I want to be on their side. But I see at the mess in the park, the litter, the usurpation of leisure/recreational use, and I want to push back. I am an interested party. In the end I choose to believe that a great city has to "protect" its parks, maintaining the grounds, providing a refuge for urban wildlife, and for urban humanity as well, from the hustle and commerce that surrounds us so overwhelmingly in non-park areas of Los Angeles. The code word here is: Sanctuary. For the vendors, another place should be found and made friendly and affordable. Perhaps both sides could work together to make that happen, a diplomatic solution.
For the record, it kills me to see the park getting trampled every year at Lotus Fest, which in the past drew too many people and allows them by the many hundreds onto the island, where birds have ground nests. The difference here is that the fees (I presume) that the vendors pay to the city help maintain the park. But still...