The historic west side has felt the effects of a divestment for decades.
In this mostly black neighborhood near downtown Las Vegas, households earn less than half the citywide median income, the vast majority of the roughly 3,700 residents rent their homes, and unemployment is usually two to three times higher than in Las, according to data Vegas overall city stats.
But last year the city completed the first phase of the HUNDRED plan, a roadmap to revitalize the neighborhood that focuses on commercial investment, housing, education, and cultural growth.
The plan, which the city says will be community-driven, outlines the steps for a number of proposed projects over the next few years: a health center, African American museum, and co-operative grocery store as anchor tenants, an affordable residential complex among them.
Each project is tied to secured or potential sources of funding such as the city or the private sector. Jackson Avenue – a busy street in the 1950s – and the areas where Washington Avenue crosses D and H streets are considered catalysts for revitalization.
While this is not the first redevelopment plan for the area over the years, there is renewed optimism that real change will occur after a long period of stagnation and one-off projects.
Hundred plan is “everything”
“Despite the long history of segregation in the neighborhood, the community is now at a point of promise,” said Claytee White, director of the UNLV Oral History Research Center.
White hosted a panel discussion on the historic west site, streamed online Thursday, and wrapped up a month-long run of the university series “We Need to Talk: Talking About Racism for a More Resilient Las Vegas”. Media advice for the program found that the neighborhood has seen positive changes recently, such as the development of Legacy Park, which will honor 36 pioneers when it opens this year.
The project is included in the HUNDRED Plan In Action as one of four already funded and either ongoing or completed projects. The historical signage of the Westside gateway at motorway exits and at around a dozen locations in the neighborhood was installed in 2020. Road projects on US Highway 95 and Lake Mead Boulevard are expected to improve driving upon completion.
“I think the HUNDRED plan in action is everything,” said Cedric Crear, councilor who represents the neighborhood.
The plan’s beginnings preceded Crear’s election to the council in March 2018, but he soon found that the strategic guide for the West Side was not yet operational.
“I said,” This isn’t going to be another plan that we’re talking about. We say we will and absolutely nothing will happen, “said Crear.
In December 2019, around 60 stakeholders met with city officials and design experts to move the plan forward.
Gentrification on radar
During Thursday’s panel discussion, Clark County’s Commissioner William McCurdy II, representing the Historic West Side, said there will be “an incredible focus on black-owned business funding” to bring the neighborhood back to life enjoyed it for more than half a century ago.
The county is a partner in the HUNDRED plan, and McCurdy said collaboration will be critical to revitalizing the neighborhood.
Erika Vital-Lazare, professor of creative writing and marginalized voices in dystopian literature at the College of Southern Nevada, envisioned neighborhood bookstores, sidewalk cafes, lofts, and living and working spaces, as well as rooftops for taking in the scenic views of the nearby mountains and the strip.
However, with the plans pledging to pay homage to the history of the neighborhood, where the original families remain to this day and the memories of Jackson Avenue are awesome, panelists cautioned about the effects of gentrification.
“We can’t just look at the beautification, the evolution that will come as an invitation to exploitation, and I think that’s the problem,” said Vital-Lazare. “We are at the tipping point where we can do something else that will really improve the lives of those who are still in this room.”
Crear and McCurdy agreed that revitalization must not crowd out residents, and the HUNDRED plan calls on the city to take action against eviction this year to ensure new developments and investments don’t.
Sense of community
As forward-looking as the plans for the historic west side are, there are immediate issues that must continue to be addressed. McCurdy noted that the pandemic has only underscored inequalities in minority health care.
According to the city, the neighborhood is around 35 percent Spanish.
It might be known as the historic west side, said Chase McCurdy, an artist who works with Legacy Park and a cousin of the commissioner, “but it’s the west side, you know, because people still live there. It’s not just history, it’s current and it has a future. “
Ultimately, according to William McCurdy, officials have to deliberately consider how the neighborhood will be redeveloped, and he saw its potential as an international attraction for visitors looking to experience black culture. Crear said young black developers will be important to the West Side’s economic prosperity and plans to turn the neighborhood into a modern day live work destination.
“But also to create an even greater sense of community through all of this,” added Crear. “This is important.”
Contact Shea Johnson at [email protected] or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.