Thursday, April 7, 2011

Are the Problems of El Paso's Chamizal Neighborhood El Paso City Gov't's Own Creation?

Are the Problems of El Paso's Chamizal Neighborhood Our Own Creation?

Mural in the St. Anne's Center

Last year it was announced that the Chamizal Neighborhood would be the recipient of a Federal Weed & Seed.

What is Weed & Seed? Like you, I was confused. I'm a lawn man so I know what weed and seed is in lawn care terms, but the Weed & Seed that we will talk about is “a community-based strategy sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), is an innovative, comprehensive multiagency approach to law enforcement, crime prevention, and community revitalization.” (Read More).

The City of El Paso's Weed & Seed application is a bit deceiving in its use of the term “Chamizal Neighborhood.” When one thinks of this neighborhood, most think of the neighborhood just north of the Chamizal National Memorial and Bowie High School all the way to Alameda Av. It also includes the residents and federal housing projects in the Basset Addition including the Tays and Salazar federal housing projects. See Map.

What is described above is the neighborhood focused upon in the Chamizal Neighborhood: Revitalization Strategy, January 2008 published by the City of El Paso's Community & Human Development Department, Neighborhood Services, which I will call the “report.”

However, in the Chamizal Neighborhood: Weed and Seed Strategy & Application, which utilizes much of the information in the above report, was published by same department, the “Chamizal Neighborhood” in this document, includes the Segundo Barrio all the way to Campell Street. (see Map)

Are the Chamizal Neighborhoods problems of the City of El Paso's own making?

The Status Quo

Most people know that poverty is high in the Chamizal Neighborhood proper. The following statistics and information are from the report. There are about 6,894 residents and 96.9% are Chicano or Latino. The average annual income is less than $10,000. Over a third of the households do “not have any available vehicle.” Unemployment, in comparison to the percentage of the rest of El Paso, is higher. In looking at eduction, 75.5% of residents 25 years or older do not have high school diplomas. Related to his is the fact that the high school dropout rate for this neighborhood is higher than the rest of the city.

Two-third (2/3) of the households are renters, so individual home ownership is lacking. The report says, “A large renter population creates image and appearance issues in many neighborhoods. Renters are far less likely to take pride in their dwelling or their neighborhood and there put less interest and effort into maintaining or improving the appearance of their homes.”

As far as infrastructure, the neighborhoods problems are many from lack of street lighting to drainage to streets in disrepair. This is enhanced by code violations including junk vehicles, outdoor storage, unkempt yards, and other violations.

The area has seen a significant increase in crime. Domestic violence is on the rise. Teenage pregnancy is high and on the rise. There is a gang and graffiti problem.

City Neglect

So in giving you this introduction, is this a problem of the city's own making?

The Chamizal neighborhood is a victim of ethnic isolation. Some parts of this neighborhood are over 100 years old, and more than any other part of the city, the Chamizal Neighborhood and other parts of the old “Eastside” have been victims of eminent domain and urban renewal.

For example, the building of Interstate 10 in the late 1950s cut the neighborhood off from its neighbors north of the freeway. In fact, the area north of I-10 is the same addition as the Chamizal Neighborhood, the East El Paso Addition. Paisano Drive's expansion destroyed many homes in the south barrio. In the 1960s, the Chamizal settlement, as well as the expansion of Highway 54 and the port-of-entry, took parts of the barrio. In 1970, the building of the Spaghetti Bowel (the I-10-Highway 54 Interchange) again cut it off from its northern neighbors in the French Addition and the Washington Park neighborhoods.

Effect of Urban Renewal on Children and Youth in the Chamizal

As a result of this urban renewal, the children and youth lack after-school and recreation activities. The National Recreation and Parks Association states:

  •                As reported by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, the peak hours for violent juvenile crime are from 3:00 to 6:00 PM. These are also the hours when children are most likely to become victims of crime, be in an automobile accident, smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs.

In the early 1950s, what is now the Leona Washington Center (map) was built to service the “Eastside” but by 1960 this was cut off from the Chamizal Neighborhood. It is still the nearest recreation center, with Armjio Center (map) being in the Segundo Barrio and the Seville (Sambrano) (map) and San Juan (map) recreation centers being more than 4 miles away.

Washington Park has always been nearby, but after 1970, there were only two ways to get to Washington Park from Chamizal, Alameda Avenue or Paisano Drive (although I think there is a pedestrian bridge somewhere in the middle). I was surprise to find Washington Park no longer had a pool. The nearest to public pool to Chamizal is in Delta Park (map), which is a good walk. Hwy 54 obstructs getting to this pool with ease.

Though the Chamizal National Memorial was opened in the 1960s and provided acres of open space and parkland, it does not have any real use as an urban park. It has no playground equipment, basketball courts, handball courts, or other recreational facilities. This is a stark contrast from the Chamizal park on the Mexican side which has pedestrian and bike routes, soccer fields (or futbol fils), swimming pools, handball courts and more. The Mexican-side Chamizal park is much larger but it is still better suited to Cd. Juarez' urban environment, even for El Paso's for that matter.

There are after-school programs at all the schools: Zavela, Beall, Douglas; as well as after-school program run by two or three non-profits. The National Recreation and Parks Association states:

                 A 2006 survey by the Afterschool Alliance found that three out of four afterschool programs were full or 
                overcrowded and 86% of providers surveyed said children in their communities who need afterschool 
                programs do not have access to them.

The Chamizal lacks a community/recreation center and a library. The nearest libraries are the Armijo Library and the Clardy Fox Library. When the weather gets cold, where do kid go. As for outside recreation, the Chamizal has 1.26 acres of parkland: Estrella Rivera Park (recently renovated), Luna Pera Park, and Barrio Park. The National Recreation and Park Association recommends one (1) acre per 1,000 people. That would mean the need about 5 acres more of parkland in the Chamizal Neighborhood.

El Paso has a recommendation of 1 acre per 100 households, but this is just a recommendation. Furthermore, Chamizal is an older neighborhood and land is limited. Lack of parks acts as a form of environmental racism in that lack of parks makes it harder for people of color to exercise, thus falling victim to heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases attributed to lack of exercise.

There are playgrounds and basketball courts at both Tays and Chamizal projects. One park in the Chamizal Neighborhood has a half-court basketball court and the other has a full court. Also, Pera Luna Park has a new skate park.

Are the problems in Chamizal of our own making? Though not technically in the Chamizal Neighborhood, the Lincoln Center in Lincoln Park under the Spaghetti Bowl was closed by the city in October 2006 due to a mold infestation. The city, according to Fox News (October 6, 2006), said the center would be cleaned and reopen by Nov. 2006. It is April 2011, and it remains closed.

Above, Lincoln Center closed due to mold in 2006 with promise to open a month later

Lincoln Center had pool tables, ping-pong, and many groups included LULAC, folklorico groups, Project Bravo and other used the center. Parks and Recreation had offices there and the surrounding community could register their children for league sports. Not any more.

With a third of the Chamizal population without personal transportation, where do they go now if at all to register their children for league sports; what transpiration do they use: They city's wonderful transportation system?

St. Anne's Center

The St. Anne's Center sits closed on Piedras Street. I'm unsure who owns this property. It use to have a variety of uses from home health to a clinic. Guillermo Glenn was quoted in an El Paso Times article a few years ago concerning the El Paso Police Department receiving funds for assault rifles. He said that money could have been spent reopening the St. Anne's Center.

Environmental Center

It should be mentioned that the city also did away with the Environmental Center at Piedras Street and Paisano Drive. It is set for demolition sometime in the future. If I remember correctly, the land is to be sold to a private buyer. (See Related Link)

So what are youth and children to do?

The city needs to reopen the Lincoln Center, make use of the St. Anne's Center, and maybe open up a mini police sub-station in Chamizal (in the St. Anne's Center?). For a neighborhood just down the street from the El Paso Police Department headquarters in Five Points, Chamizal sure is neglected.

Furthermore, the Chamizal National Memorial needs to urbanize. It need to be attractive to kids and youth. Maybe later a pedestrian bridge can be built over Paisano Dr. so residents can access the Chamizal park without having to avoid cars and trucks that drive recklessly on Paisano Dr. going into Cd. Juarez in the afternoons and evenings.

The Weed and Seed Strategy & Application includes the Segundo Barrio and I wonder if this hurts the Chamizal Neighborhood. Then again, any extra funding to revitalize is good, but when the city talks about "revitalization" in the Segundo Barrio, one always has to wince a little. Ithe Weed and Seed mentions the Clinica de La Fe has a technology center that Chamizal resident can use, but the center is in the Segundo Barrio.

Remember, the Weed and Seed Strategy is different from the other report that just focused upon the Chamizal Neighborhood proper. The Weed & Seed also mentions the Boy's Club, which I think is a wonderful organization, but it's in Segundo Barrio not in the Chamizal Neighborhood.

Are residents and youth from the Chamizal proper really going to walk all the way to La Fe or the Boys and Girls Club? Remember, both these neighborhoods have a gang problem, though the Segundo Barrio a little less due to the county gang injuction. However, Segundo is someone's else's neighborhood and walking that great distance, you are walking in enemy territory.

Boy's Club that was near the Paisano Housing on Alameda Avenue before moving to Delta

If anything, a Boys and Girls Club is needed in the Old Eastside again. There use to be one near the Paisano Housing near Alameda Avenue and Boone Street. It is now further east on Delta, about 3 miles from the Chamizal Neighborhood. The Mercado Mayapan has a technology center closer to the Chamizal Neighborhood, but the city's history of helping to fund the mercado is not a good one.

What can we do

The Chamizal Neighborhood’s problems are a result of the city's neglect. The problems are a result of the ethnic isolation due to urban renewal, highway expansion, and border disputes. Sure, one could ask how can their be ethnic isolation when on every side of the Chamizal Neighborhood there are Chicanos and Mexicanos living. But what we are talking about is the intersection of economic level (more specific poverty) and race and that each group of people of color in the United States is racialized in a unique way.

Today, we can give youth something to do in the Chamizal neighborhood. Let's reopen these centers. Let's invest in more parkland. The National Recreation and Parks Association gives these examples, which I will end with:

  • Fort Myers police documented a 28% drop in juvenile arrests after the city built a new youth recreation center and started a new recreational and academic program.
  • Phoenix basketball courts and other recreation facilities are kept open until 2:00 AM throughout the summer. During this time police calls reporting juvenile crime drop by as much as 55%.
  • Los Angeles, through its Summer Night Lights program, keeps the lights on in 16 high-crime parks and adjoining recreation centers. The city organizes sports, music, food, and connections to summer jobs for participating young people. In 2008, the first year of the program, city officials reported that affected communities experienced significant declines in violent gang-related crimes (down 17%), homicides (down 86%) and aggravated assaults (down 23%).

Imagine your neighborhood had a concrete wall on its north and east sides (I-10 and Hwy 54), an industrial area on its west side, and an international border with major highways on its southern border. You'd be isolated too.

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