Great Streets = Great Community

If we are going to have a conversation about the impact arts can have on a community, we must mention the current talk of the town, the Cirque du Soleil show Totem, which opened in San Pedro last month and will run until Nov. 10.

I took my family to see the show several days after it opened and was pleasantly surprised, not only by the quality of the show and its performers, but by the sense of community that I experienced while enjoying the evening out with my family in San Pedro.

While the show will bring approximately 50,000 people to San Pedro during its month-long run, helping our local economy and our local businesses, the experience of being out in San Pedro at a high-end professional entertainment event as we ran into familiar face after familiar face is something that I have not felt since my parents took me to Ports O’ Call when I was a kid. On a warm summer-like night out we greeted each other before the show, raved about it during the intermission and seemingly floated to our cars after, waving goodnight to each other. It was a very special evening in every way.

The fact that Cirque du Soleil chose San Pedro as its Los Angeles location for Totem, coupled with the fact that the redevelopment of Ports O’ Call Village will start in just over a year, where we will see new retail, dining and entertainment opportunities, is evidence enough that San Pedro is returning to its roots of being a social community that has a lot to offer to its residents and its visitors.

The reception room at the top of Los Angeles City Hall, called the Tom Bradley Room, has an inscription that reads: “The City Came into Being To Preserve Life, It Exists for the Good Life,” a quote from Aristotle. Even though we live in a suburb of the great city of Los Angeles, we are very much part of the fabric of it and participate in the evolution of it.

We live in an urban age. For the first time in history, most people live in cities and the UN estimates that over the next 40 years, the population is going to double on the planet. While we focus on the basics that preserve life – police & fire, maintaining streets and ensuring sanitation – it is equally important that we feed the soul of the city through arts and entertainment to ensure our residents can participate in “the good life.”

The city can support our new and exploding arts community by ensuring that the public environment in our arts district is thriving by being functional and safe. We must ensure there is ample parking, lighting and police patrol. We must work to create more public space that allows for the incubation of even more art, community and entertainment. Our First Thursday Art Walk is an ideal example of this.

A couple weeks ago, Mayor Garcetti issued his first executive directive, launching the Great Streets Initiative. “A great neighborhood needs a great street as its backbone, and, as city leaders, we need the backbone to make the bold changes necessary to build great streets,” said Mayor Garcetti.

The directive establishes a working group comprised of several City departments and headed by Doane Liu, Deputy Mayor of City Services (as well as a longtime San Pedro resident and my former Chief of Staff). The group is tasked with identifying 40 potential “great streets,” and proposing potential improvements – such as lighting, street furniture and landscaping – with the overall goal of increasing economic activity, improving access and mobility, enhancing neighborhood character, increasing community engagement, improving environmental resilience and making safer and more secure communities.

Great streets make for great community. San Pedro has outgrown the more simple utilitarian needs of our parents and their parents and now we must work towards fulfilling our cultural needs. As much as I was excited about the entire evening surrounding the Cirque du Soleil show, I am even more excited that we are closing in on a future for our community that makes my wonderful experience at the show a common experience for all of us.

I commend Cirque du Soleil for their brilliance of bringing their production to San Pedro, but ask all of you to recognize that they did it because it had value to them. San Pedro has lots of value and many of us will be very blessed to experience it on a whole new level very soon. spt

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