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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 April, 2003, 13:28 GMT 14:28 UK
LA trouble spot 'wiped' from map

Peter Bowes
BBC, Los Angeles

Map of Los Angeles

South Central Los Angeles has been removed from the map of LA, in an effort to rid the area of its international image of gang violence and poverty.

Members of the Los Angeles City Council passed the move, which has taken many residents by surprise, unanimously.

In future, the historically black suburb will be known as South Los Angeles. But will it makes a difference?

On first hearing, the change appears to be a subtle one.

But by simply taking the Central out of South Central, the local authority is hoping decades of negative images will be confined to the history books.

Catch-all term

In the early 1900s, Central Avenue, which crosses the neighbourhood, marked the heart of LA's African-American enclave.

But over the years, the black community has dispersed and moved into adjacent districts.

Ted Hayes
Because it is so bad they figure that if they put a new name on the badness the badness will go away
Homeless activist Ted Hayes

The name South Central followed and became a catch-all term often associated with poor areas plagued by high crime rates and violence.

The name achieved global notoriety after the Watts riots in 1965.

"The media had somewhat given a large area of the city, particularly the poor areas of the city, a kind of a generic name that basically gave a connotation that it was somewhat of a mass wasteland," explained Bernard Parks, a newly elected councillor for the area and former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Movie portrayal

Today, approximately two-thirds of people living in South Central are Hispanic - immigrants from Central American countries.

The area remains largely poor and gang violence is still a problem.

But certain districts, such as Baldwin Hills are more affluent and boast a share of million-dollar mansions normally associated with rich areas like Beverly Hills.

"The term South Central has been used to indicate any residential area that is inhabited by African Americans and no longer holds the same cultural significance," said councillor Jan Perry.

John Ellis
The name change does not change the people... It will pacify some of those who feel that 'oh because of our bad rap this is why we're having crime' - that's not going to solve the crime.
South Central resident John Ellis

The South Central image has been promoted in Hollywood movies and much of the music, especially gangsta rap, which has emerged from the area.

In switching to South Los Angeles, local officials are hoping to promote an image makeover.

"The issue is you're dealing with a poor community with minimal resources and in many instances, very few tools to help people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps," said Councillor Parks.

"If they feel better about where they live and they feel better about where they are raising their kids it's worth supporting."

But many local people say they are insulted by the name change.

'Nice neighbourhood'

"It's almost like, now they're hiding the inner city again," added Donald Barnett, who works as a postman in the area.

"They're saying now it's no longer an inner city, it's a new community. It's a new community without anything changing."

Mr Barnett said he resented the authority's attempt to give the area a fresh identity.

"I've been living here all my life and the inner city is not totally bad. And the fact that they come up with these symbolic things all the time, people will continue to think that."

In practical terms, the change will see new signs being erected in the area and official stationary will be re-printed.

Helen Johnson, a resident of the newly defined South Los Angeles, said she hoped the change would encourage a new pride in the area.

"We have a very nice neighbourhood, if I was a millionaire tomorrow I wouldn't move. I love where I live and we try to keep our homes up just like everybody else," she said.

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