09/30/2013 01:10 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The War on Blight

There may not be bombs, but nevertheless, a full blown war wages on everyday in our city's public spaces. Graffiti, garbage, defecation, urine and general apathy are the weapons of the invading enemy. For decades, our only methods of defense have been chain link fences, barbed wire, warning signs, security gates and surveillance cameras. The battle has resulted in a city of fortresses. Though grim, the situation is something most of us have simply grown accustomed to. We travel through the war zones near freeway exits and on the outskirts of "up-and-coming areas" in our vehicular bubbles, ignoring all the ugliness we see out the corners of our eyes.

Now for the good news! I'm here to report on a "new" arsenal, providing great hope for the future of our fallen battlefields. Plants, paint, brooms, hoses and good old fashioned elbow grease are proving extremely effective weapons in what was previously one of the most disgusting and terrifying alleyways in all of Los Angeles. In fact, as I write this, I'm flipping through before photos and finding myself in utter disbelief of how drastically the space has changed since I became involved in it's revitalization a little over two years ago.



So, how exactly does a space like this go from blighted to beautiful? Well, based on my experiences here in EaCa Alley (the alley East of Cahuenga between Selma and Hollywood) the answer is pure blood, sweat and tears with a heavy helping of passion and a side of blind optimism. The original revitalization project was initiated by a relatively small group of people who saw an opportunity to transform Hollywood's many blighted alleyways into a series of "pedestrian promenades." This coalition of landlords and city representatives took it upon themselves to transform EaCa Alley into an action-packed urban corridor filled with outdoor dining, nightlife and special events. After extensive drainage and sewage repairs, thousands of new permeable pavers, consolidation of dumpsters to nearby parking lots and some creative permitting, the "pedestrian friendly" EaCa Alley we know today was born.

Unfortunately, pretty pavement and permits just weren't enough to draw people into the alley, let alone make them care about it and want to see the model replicated in other parts of the city. A lack of foot traffic and community interest in the newly developed space meant EaCa Alley was in great jeopardy of quickly falling back into disrepair. When it came down to it, there was really no reason for anyone to walk down the alley. Luckily, a local company by the name of Urban Nature (which I happen to own) stepped in to save the day by keeping the beautification process moving in the right direction. As a fabricator of customizable luxury planters (or "plant pots," even though I cringe at this terminology) Urban Nature needed a way to showcase its products for all the world to see. Trade shows, advertising and paying astronomical rent for a showroom all just felt like flushing money down the toilet. So, I made the radical decision to risk it all by spending our entire year's marketing budget on making EaCa Alley a permanent showcase for the product line. Translation: planters mounted to walls, ledges, ceilings and other places that no sane person would ever think to grow plants.

I expected this bold move would generate press. I also expected to capture pretty photos to put on our new website. And, of course, I hope to inspire people to use our planters in their own projects. However, what I didn't anticipate was that my spending on the alley would become an addiction. Yes, I literally could not stop myself from dumping more and more money into the alley without any rational return on my investment. My artistic spirit was overshadowing my business savvy, leading me to question whether my decision to put all eggs in this basket was a good one. Then one day, I caught myself in an argument with a tenant making use of the alley. The tenant had previously agreed to match our spending dollar-for-dollar to create something really amazing in their establishment's section of EaCa Alley. After going way over budget on their interior build out, this particular establishment couldn't or wouldn't pay their bill. As the words "This isn't a charity.. I'm trying to run a business here," came out of my mouth, a light bulb went on in my head. Yes, this absolutely was a very worthy charitable cause in and of itself, and it should probably be run as such.

Fast forward to September 2013 and voila! We've made our charity status official by receiving our fiscal sponsorship through a national arts organization called Fractured Atlas. This allows us to enjoy many of the benefits of an IRS-approved, nonprofit organization. In short, we're now able to issue tax write-offs for donations, apply for grants and more! As I continue to battle the blight that's overcome our public spaces, I'm filled with hope and optimism at the community's enthusiastic response to the work we've accomplished thus far. I promise to keep you posted as we continue to improve EaCa Alley and start to branch out into other areas of the city in great need of our help. Our goal is to create the world's first planter-based botanical garden as a way to make this concrete jungle we call home a more beautiful and livable place for everyone. Anyone else out there ready to join our army?