“40 acres and a mall:” Building Black community wealth in L.A.

An emerging co-operative development project in L.A.’s Crenshaw neighborhood is boldly challenging the model of urban development by asserting their vision for a co-operatively owned, community-backed mall that will directly benefit community members and their small businesses, rather than outside investors and developers.

The project was born when members of the historically Black Crenshaw neighborhood learned of the impending sale of a mall in of Los Angeles to outside developers. This was a meaningful place for neighbors. Long-time resident Niki Okuk recalls that this mall was the site of her first date and her first kiss. Additionally, residents knew that this development designed by outsiders would differ little from those already finished or in the works in and around their community: raising home prices, property taxes, and rent prices that threatened their medium- to lower-income community’s stability.

So, neighbors and grassroots groups banded together to build a diverse, broad-based community organization named Downtown Crenshaw Rising (DCR). As DCR, they proposed an alternative to the current proposed sale and development plan: a collectively owned, re-imagined iconic Black commercial space that would function as a 21st century community wealth building urban village with a sustainable net positive energy system.

In a round-table hosted by Social Venture Circle to capture this story, Ed Whitfield frames this people-powered project in the context of this unique moment in a time of economic innovation, as a concrete example of “opportunities and possibilities for the next economy: an economy that works for most people, as opposed to the old economy which absolutely does not.”

The features of this new economy, Whitfield explains, will be characterized by “a re-claiming of common spaces for the benefit of meeting needs and elevating the quality of life in the community, collective ownership as opposed to the individual ownership that denies so many people the opportunity to won much of anything other than their own capacity for labor, the rise of cooperative economic activities and ventures, the rise of community wealth-building as a concept where communities can look  through their own effort, sustain their own capacity to be resilient into the future, and as a whole the concept of a solidarity economy that we know to be growing.”

Watch the roundtable to hear the story of this project’s emergence and aspirations going forward from speakers Niki Okuk (Rco² Material Reuse), Clark R. Arrington (Seed Commons), Damien Goodmon (Crenshaw Subway Coalition).


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About the Lead Author

April Doner
April Doner
April Doner is a community connector, artist, and mother who is passionate about igniting the intersection between re-weaving neighbor relationships, strengthening local economies, and healing / reconciling inequities and injustices. She is a Steward at the ABCD Institute DePaul University and, while not practicing neighboring in her own neighborhood, she trains, coaches, and consults in Asset Based Community Development. April also documents local resilience as well as group processes through various creative means including writing, photography, video, and graphic recording. Since 2020, she has curated content for AbundantCommunity.com.

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