By Avital Aboody
About one year ago I moved from Los Angeles to San Diego and began working as the Project Coordinator for the Greater Logan Heights Community Partnership (GLHCP), a collaborative of community-based organizations serving Logan Heights, Memorial, Sherman Heights, Grant Hill and Stockton. These five neighborhoods are bounded by Route 94 to the north, 1-15 to the east, and 1-5 the south and west.
The GLHCP is an outgrowth of the Neighborhood First Initiative piloted by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) in 2008. The group formed as an earnest effort to unite community-based organizations and empower residents to take action to create sustainable change in their neighborhood. Before taking this job, I had never heard of any of these neighborhoods, let alone the varying names that are used to refer to them collectively. But as I launched into my work, I quickly learned the significance of names in this community.
I began working closely on business development programming with BAME Community Development Corporation, a non-profit founded in 1995 by Bethel Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church in San Diego CA.
One year ago they began facilitating monthly breakfast meetings called “Good Morning Logan”, with the idea of bringing neighborhood business owners together to network and discuss ways to promote the local economy. When I attended my first meeting in June there were four business owners and four BAME staff members in attendance.
The group decided to create a coupon book to promote the local businesses and provide an incentive for residents to shop locally. We hit the streets hard and recruited 22 businesses on Imperial Avenue and Commercial Street to participate in the coupon book. The project was branded as “Greater Logan Heights Local First” and 3,000 copies were printed and hand delivered to homes throughout the neighborhood, thanks to the hard work of our King-Chavez High School volunteers.
The coupon book was the tangible project we needed to grow the business association and start the important work of attracting investment to the neighborhood. Through our organizing efforts, the monthly meetings had grown to about 30 active participants, and the community seemed excited by our potential.
With more members and more exposure came more questions and concerns, primarily regarding the use of the name Greater Logan Heights. One resident who received the coupon book sent me an email that stated that people living north of Imperial Avenue don’t like their neighborhood to be referred to as Greater Logan Heights because the name is “divisive and polarizing”. He then went on to suggest several different names that we could have chosen, with the caveat that none of them are ideal but all are better than any name involving Logan Heights.
It was quite an impassioned email, which initially caught me off guard, but at the next meeting with the business owners it was clear that they too were unsettled by the use of Greater Logan Heights to describe the business association. Then the debates ensued.
We made a list of all the names that we had heard, read about, or simply created from scratch. It read like this:
Greater Logan Heights
Historic Barrio District
Imperial Commercial Corridor
South of 94, West of 15
Southeast San Diego
New Logan Heights
GLHSSHGH (a noble attempt to include all neighborhoods: Greater Logan Heights Stockton Sherman Heights Grant Hill)
With our heads spinning from the sheer length of the list, we set out to finally determine what is the best, most appropriate, and most unifying name for this neighborhood? (Actually, we were less ambitious than that. We just wanted to choose a name for the business association, not the neighborhood at large).
Debates over the importance of rebranding the neighborhood versus honoring the history of the neighborhood versus changing connotations associated with the neighborhood, resulted in an election process that lasted for about two months.
Eventually we put all the names on a paper ballot that was distributed to each of the business owners on our list. Each of them cast their vote, sealed it in an envelope, and returned it to us for counting. Satisfied that everyone had their say, we announced the verdict at our November meeting.
In a close race, Central Village prevailed and thus, the Central Village Business Association was officially inaugurated. The meeting continued with officer elections and congratulatory remarks. We had chosen our leaders and we had chosen a name. Yet it was clear that this was hardly the end of the name debate.
The divisions that exist within these neighborhoods can be attributed to a number of factors, including gang rivalries and differing opinions about what redevelopment means for the community. As I understand it, the use of the name Central Village to describe the neighborhood is an attempt to encourage association with the East Village, the new name given to the eastern edge of downtown San Diego that experienced heightened gentrification in conjunction with the building of Petco Park. It is not my aim in this article to offer an opinion about redevelopment in the East Village.
However, regardless of your opinion, it is undeniable that the changes in the East Village have seriously affected the residents of the Greater Logan Heights neighborhoods, many of whom have been displaced due to the rising cost of living.
Despite improvements in the crime rate and the many beautiful community-led revitalization projects that have taken root, the violence and neglect that contributed to the negative reputation of this neighborhood is still a vivid memory for many long-time residents, as well as the general public of San Diego.
I entered the neighborhood on the brink of a new era. A new generation is growing up without inbred hostility and imaginary boundaries, and the residents are eager to assert a new neighborhood identity that speaks to their values of progress and unity. Some, like the members of the Central Village Business Association and the Historic Barrio District CDC, believe that this new identity requires a new name.
Others, including the Greater Logan Heights Community Partnership, hold firm to the familiar name and attempt to shift negative perceptions with innovative projects that change the facts on the ground. Regardless of the different names, we are all working together to improve the quality of life in these neighborhoods.
Folks outside of the community may continue to be confused about exactly which area we are talking about as we switch back and forth between names, but residents across these five neighborhoods know where they live, know their neighbors, know that they share the same struggles, and know that they must work together to bring about the change that they deserve.
This pride transcends all the imaginary borders and will carry these residents to victory, no matter what name badge they choose to wear.