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Community uses guerrilla gardening to spruce up Skid Row

By Sonali Kohli
Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2012, at 01:11PM

This plot on San Julian Street was empty apart from two palm trees and one plant, so community members spruced it up on Saturday.



“General” Jeff Page sees missed opportunities when he looks at the sidewalk.

The community activist points to the monotone walls that line the streets of Skid Row, running into the cement sidewalks that blend into asphalt streets.

“You just see this dull freaking grey,” Page said, spreading his hands and shaking his head.

He wants more color, more positive imagery to inspire people who live on the streets. One way to do that is guerrilla gardening, which usually consists of planting some greenery on public land. It’s called “guerrilla” gardening because it’s not actually legal to plant on public land without the city’s consent.

Over the past year, Page and fellow community activist Katherine McNenny have teamed with Southern California guerilla gardener Scott Bunnell to spruce up three plots of land in Skid Row -- but on private property and with the owners’ consent.

Bunnell prefers true guerilla gardening on patches of public land, but those are hard to come by in this part of Downtown.

“It’s disappointing how much is cemented in,” Bunnell said. “When I go up there and drive around looking for spots, there’s not a lot of open land anywhere.”

The first two projects were small plots near the intersection of Boyd and San Pedro streets, and the newest green addition is a plot they transformed on Saturday that belongs to the Volunteers of America building on San Julian Street.

The guerrilla gardening is a part of Operation Face Lift Skid Row an effort to beautify and clean the streets of L.A.’s homeless epicenter. Other projects include painted trashcans and wall murals.

McNenny moved to an apartment on San Pedro Street in 2010 and thought the area could use more greenery, according to her website, On San Pedro Project. While many of the blocks surrounding Skid Row are lined with trees and the shade they bring, the 50-block area is visibly lacking.

She’s planted some trees on San Pedro Street, but McNenny also reached out to Bunnell, who has been guerrilla gardening in Southern California since 2008.

They use plants that Bunnell grows in his backyard, usually succulents like agave and flower-shaped Aoeniums that don't need much maintenance.

A few homeless residents have joined in the gardening process, too, Page said.

The streets of Skid Row are home to a number of out of work landscapers, and some will drop by to help, said Page -- slowly making their streets more like a home.

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