Year 1: EcoDistricts Target Cities Program

By Collin Tateishi, Little Tokyo Service Center CDC

Little Tokyo is the first Cultural Ecodistrict in the United States.  Grounded in rich history and decades of grassroots organizing, recent cultural preservation efforts have evolved into “Sustainable Little Tokyo.”  The Little Tokyo Community Council, Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, and LTSC Community Development Corporation are leading this community-driven initiative that believes history, art and culture are essential to Little Tokyo’s future as an economically, environmentally, socially sustainable neighborhood.  We strive to achieve harmony between our cultural history and our environmental future.

In the Summer of 2014, Sustainable Little Tokyo was chosen to participate in the EcoDistricts Target Cities Pilot Program – the only West Coast project in the 11-member cohort.  The intention of this program is to accelerate district-scale (in our case, Little Tokyo neighborhood-scale) sustainability projects through the Target Cities roadmap of four phases:  Organization/Governance, District Assessment, Project Financing, and Project Management.  

In September 2014, the Sustainable Little Tokyo team flew to Washington DC for Phase 1 to learn new ways to strengthen the internal governance structure within the Little Tokyo Community Council to create the necessary spaces for greater involvement amongst local community members, our political representatives, and resource partners.  As a result, we have created a leadership Cabinet, Steering Committee, and three working committees (Arts and Culture, Outreach and Education, Real Estate and Build Environment) as well as a Declaration of Cooperation which outlines general commitments from all of our initiative partners. 

In April 2015, EcoDistricts staff came to Los Angeles for Phase 2 to help us articulate where our neighborhood is now and identify measurable goals to track our progress and success moving forward.  Around this time, the Mayor’s citywide Sustainability Plan (pLAn) was also released and showed how Little Tokyo’s interests could connect with these larger regional goals as well as how Little Tokyo’s dynamic arts and cultural resources could enhance the City’s vision for a sustainable Los Angeles.  All of this fed into the development of work plans for each of our working committees, which now have specific short, medium, and long-term goals to strive for that support our vision for a sustainable Little Tokyo.

In June 2015, our team flew to Atlanta, Georgia for Phase 3 to breakdown the “how-to” challenges for kickstarting implementation of specific projects.  At this one-year mark in the program, we are continuing to grow the Sustainable Little Tokyo initiative, recognizing that our ideas need human and financial resources to become a reality.  With the support of our core resource partners – Enterprise Community Partners, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Global Green USA, and NeighborWorks America – we are diving deeper into this resource analysis and working to lay the foundation for future projects in Little Tokyo. 

Summer in Little Tokyo is a time for celebration and reflection.  As our community embraces annual celebrations like Nisei Week, Tanabata, and summer Obon festivals, it is amazing to see how Little Tokyo’s art and cultural traditions have sustained over the past 131 years.  Around us are relics of a beautiful and irreplaceable community with a history unlike any other place in the country.  Here, it is clear that what is truly sustainable about our dream for Little Tokyo are the experiences and stories nested in the very fabric of our community.