For Bangladeshi Americans in Los Angeles, Place is a Plaza

Gabriel Kahan

On Sunday, Sense LA, the Berggruen Institute’s LA-based program on social cohesion and new forms of democratic expression, held the first of a series of creative assemblies aimed at working with a broad coalition of organizations to draft recommendations for the Wilshire Corridor and Westlake Community Plans. The first assembly was held last Sunday October 20th and was hosted by the Little Bangladesh Community of Los Angeles.

The event, held at the Historic Bradbury Building downtown, gathered men, women, and children of various ages and backgrounds from the Bangladeshi community to express and interconnect the issues which are most important to them.

The issues ranged wildly from topics of homelessness to the issue of credit systems, to parking, to high cost of living, etc. Of note was the general sense of precariousness that the community feels and the need to counter act that through physical infrastructure which concentrates the Bangladeshi community and gives voice to their culture and customs, as well as rise to commercial opportunities.

Their general sense is that they are at the mercy of both economic and social forces external to them which threaten to displace the community and erode the nascent Bangladeshi character of the area.  Of chief concern is their lack of land ownership. Little Bangladesh is located just north of Koreatown and shares its limited space with a variety of people from diverse nationalities who have called that area home. The area, one of the most densely populated traversed throughways in the City, is undergoing rapid change. As a population, they are relatively newly immigrated, that still need to establish themselves. As such, the Bangladeshi community serves as an example of the struggles of immigrants to United States.  As the group progressed through the assemblies various methods of collective expression, they chose to contextualize their issues within the question of “ What is Place?” In order to understand how their issues affect their sense of Place. As they asked themselves what place is, they came up with a system of factors which included, sense of belonging, expression of culture, space, safety, and ownership. Through the use of those concepts they evaluated their daily issues and created a dynamic system of interconnected issues which helped them understand and synchronize their concept of Place. As they visualized these concepts, they all agreed that what truly defined place was what they called, a Bangladeshi Plaza which houses business, cultural, political, religious and social enterprises and helps the community feel a sense of permanence in this rapidly changing cityscape called LA.

Sense LA, developed by Berggruen Fellow Gabriel Kahan, uses methods designed to utilize the power of art and collective intelligence to uncover issues people face in their communities. By studying the discussion and interactions in the room, as well as through emergent discussion, attendees identified the problems they face in their community and honed in on the ones garnering the most interest and curiosity The group used design management as well as artistic practices and visualization to help people deepen their understanding of concepts. Together, the community chose to focus on the concept of place and then explored related sub-concepts of space, culture, belonging and ownership in order to attain a better understanding of the issues that emerged in the discussion. Through this process, the group moved from the conceptual, abstract and boundary-less notion of place, to the concrete and tangible conceptualization of a plaza. For the Bangladeshi community of Los Angeles, then, it seems that a sense of place would be a significant stabilizing force. Therefore, place is a plaza.

Follow us at Sense.LA and Berggruen.org/events to stay informed of the next creative assemblies, which are all free and open to the public.