CRENSHAW : Plan for Africa-Themed Zone Gains Momentum

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

For the past 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 Chinatown, Koreatown and Little Saigon.

AIVA will present its plans 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 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 plans for improving the area and to allow the community to have a direct say in its 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.

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 have died in violent crimes.

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

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