There’s more to the Wilmington Waterfront Promenade/Avalon Promenade & Gateway projects than meets the eye.
The 9-acre, $24 million Waterfront Promenade—4 acres of which will be dedicated to event space and a playground—is the work of design firm Sasaki Associates with landscape architecture by Studio MLA.
The 13-acre, $53 million Avalon Promenade and Gateway—just north of the Waterfront Promenade—will find its entry point where Avalon Boulevard hits Harry Bridges Boulevard. Designed by T.Y. Lin International, the space will be home to everything from outdoor classrooms and a history walk to a giant sundial.
But it is more than just being a new park space for Wilmington.
Off the cuff, it is recognition that our most at-risk citizens—those near refineries and trains and trucks in West Long Beach, North Long Beach, Carson, and, of course, Wilmington—deserve greener space. On the deeper cut, it is a not-so-subtle middle-finger to the greedy Powers That Be.
Wilmington is arguably Long Beach’s most marginalized neighbor. Smushed between the 110 and Terminal Island freeways and the port complex to its south, it is home to the nation’s third-largest oil field and represents one of the most industrialized cities in the entire United States.
And that comes with many problems.
In 1999, a massive fire explosion in an oil refinery in Wilmington—just on the westernmost edge of Long Beach—was so large that it shut down the 110 and prompted evacuations of students and residents due to health concerns.
Until then, little restrictions on flaring—burning excess gas into the air around refineries—was not tightly regulated, prompting Sacramento to tell refineries they can only flare during emergencies and maintenance along with having to send monitoring reports on what they released.
Despite these monitor reports, the residents of Wilmington really don’t know how bad a year is going to be or even to what extent living near these industries affect their health.
2007? 2,335 pounds of particulate—everything from nitrous oxide to carbon monoxide to sulfur dioxide—were released at Phillip 66’s Wilmington location.
2015? A staggering 76,744 pounds of particulate were released into the airs of Wilmington, the worst year on record.
Sometimes, we over-romanticize the fact that Long Beach lives in a silo. We oftentimes dismiss what others are doing in an intense need to focus on our own to the extent that it’s detrimental.
Ultimately, whether we want to admit it or not, what is going on around us is important—but even more, we have to support projects that make our neighbors healthier, projects that provide our neighbors the chance to receive the benefits that many of us take advantage of. Because that makes us healthier, that makes our benefits increase when we have a population that is on par with what we expect our human condition to be.
In one of the more frustrating points I’ve heard from folks, especially those in Long Beach, when it comes to discussing folks living in Wilmington or its adjacent West Long Beach—the most park-poor area of our entire city, a neighborhood which has to deal with the 710 on a daily basis as well as fighting against the rail industry in its backyard, and the one which bears the biggest pollution burden—I always hear the same rhetoric: “Well then, why did they move there?”
This pontification reeks of self-centeredness, a lack of empathy, and—in all frankness—a willful unawareness.
The reality as to “why they moved there” lies on us: We as humans sold fellow humans homes there because we wanted to make money and they could afford it because humans need roofs over their heads.
Then we hit a point where a mayoral candidate, during a forum I hosted back in 2014, states this: “The West Side? I have no shame in being blasphemous, but the West Long Beach is an unlivable hellhole. The residents should leave and we should turn the entire area into an industrial zone.”
Just turn the entire area into an industrial zone. On our coast. Next to other communities.
I refuse to be a part of that camp—and it’s because projects like this exist. Support your neighbors, Long Beach. Fight for a better world, both in and outside our city; it will benefit you far more than you know.
And isolationalism? Let’s leave that to the unethical nightmare that Orange County is becoming.
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