On July 21, Long Beach community members came together to do some good on their Saturday morning. They arrived at 8 a.m. to begin transforming an area in the Hamilton neighborhood that was once dirt, weeds, and debris into a beautiful pathway lined with drought-tolerant plants.
The event, organized by the Hamilton Neighborhood Association (HNA,) aimed to transform a forgotten space off of Walnut Avenue and E. Eleanor Street and bring new life to it.
This wasn’t the first project of its nature to come out of the HNA. Renette Mazza, Jerry Fink, and Linda Campbell, among others in the association, began the movement of transforming berms bordering the 91 Freeway two years ago.
“Because there was no park space in our neighborhood, we thought we’d put mini parks on the berms,” Campbell said.
The first berm beautified was off of Myrtle Avenue and 67th Street. The idea was to take advantage of the barren landscape and make something positive come from it. And since then, the HNA has transformed six berms in total near the 91 Freeway.
Before HNA began changing the landscape of the berms, they were litter-filled areas where dumping was an issue. Now, instead of being entangled with weeds, the transformed area is a relaxing place to sit with neighbors or admire while driving by.
When HNA conjured the idea to renovate these berms into miniature parks, they called the city and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to find out whose jurisdiction the berms were under. After both declined that the berms belonged to them, HNA decided to take matters into their own hands.
“If no one’s going to claim them, then we’re going to go in there and change it,” Mazza said.
Eventually, Caltrans and the city of Long Beach started to take notice of HNA’s work cleaning up the berms. When it was determined that Caltrans did own the rights to the berms, an Adopt-a-Highway coordinator helped HNA adopt the stretch of the 91 Freeway where the berms are located. Today, HNA has a five-year grant to upkeep the berms.
But the berm transformations were only the beginning to a more extensive plan that HNA calls the “91 Greenbelt.” Eventually, the Hamilton Neighborhood Association aims to have a park that stretches the 91 Freeway on both sides from Atlantic to Cherry avenues. The demo park on Walnut Avenue and E. Eleanor Street is meant to show what can be achieved.
On Tuesday, July 24, Long Beach City Council voted in favor of the project, UPLAN, an acronym for Uptown Planning Land (Use) and Neighborhood Strategy. This project is a strategy to adapt land use and zoning to reflect a modern future for North Long Beach.
According to the City’s General Plan Open Space and Recreation Element, the goal is to increase Long Beach’s recreation and open space per 1,000 residents from 5.6 to eight acres. In North Long Beach (the entirety of Council District 9 and the majority of Council District 8,) it is subsequently less, having only 0.9 acres of park per 1,000 people.
After months of HNA rallying community members to vote for the “91 Greenbelt,” it is approved to be the first of a series of open spaces that will be transformed into parks in accordance with UPLAN. Once there’s enough funding for the project, both sides of the 91 Freeway will be revamped to include a pedestrian/ bike path surrounded by greenery.
For now, the Hamilton Neighborhood Association will continue to up-keep the berms and proceed with the park demo.
“I can notice there’s been a difference. There’s less trash and more people taking pride in up-keeping their own spaces,” Mazza said.
After day one of the park demo on Saturday, July 21, the atmosphere was filled with positive and joyful energy, and one could sense the pride and accomplishment in what was being achieved. It’s a testament that community can foster change.
The next park demo will be held on Aug. 18 at the corner of Walnut Avenue and E. Eleanor Street.