CRENSHAW : Plans Continue for Africa-Theme Zone

The African International Village Assn. has enlisted the help of an architectural team to give shape to its plans to transform the Crenshaw area into an African-themed business and cultural district.

For the last three months, 10 architects, artists and engineers have worked to develop conceptual drawings to give the Crenshaw corridor a new look from Adams Boulevard to Florence Avenue.

The association was founded three years ago by community activist and Cal State Los Angeles student Melva Parhams to work for the official declaration of the Crenshaw district as the African International Village. The designation would make Crenshaw an African-themed cultural and business district similar to such areas as Chinatown, Koreatown and Little Saigon.

AIVA will present its plans to the public at community meetings later this year, then will submit them to the city in hopes that they will be incorporated into the General Plan for Los Angeles, architectural team chairman Okey Okonkwo said. The General Plan, the city's plan for development and growth, is undergoing revision.

Okonkwo said that a model of the Crenshaw corridor, to be completed within the next three months, will inject a cultural element into the city's plans for physically improving the area as well as allow the Crenshaw community to have a direct say in its own future.

"We here in the area need to reflect our culture somehow," said Okonkwo, a Nigerian-born architect who is on the board of several community institutions, including First African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Sheenway School. "We can do that in architecture and design. And we need to very definitely tell the city what we would like to see."

Although the model is still in preliminary stages, some elements have already been drafted, including pyramid-shaped buildings and a memorial wall inscribed with the names of people who died of violent crimes.

"We want to make this historically significant," said Edward Williams, an industrial project designer and a member of Okonkwo's team. "This is an idea whose time is overdue."

The African International Village "is an effort that's going forward against all odds," said Parhams from AIVA's Crenshaw Boulevard office. "It's time to go for it and claim our legacy as our own."

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