Blighted district of Los Angeles takes on a new identity

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For more than 10 years, South Central Los Angeles has been a byword for the very worst in urban blight: poverty, drug-dealing, gangs, gun violence and, especially, the race riots of 1992. That is why the city authorities have decided to change the name.

For more than 10 years, South Central Los Angeles has been a byword for the very worst in urban blight: poverty, drug-dealing, gangs, gun violence and, especially, the race riots of 1992. That is why the city authorities have decided to change the name.

The city council voted unanimously to redesignate South Central as "South Los Angeles" in all city documents and street signs – the idea being to destigmatise an area that routinely carries every kind of negative overtone in public debate, newspaper coverage and Hollywood films.

"A name change isn't going to make all the problems go away, and nobody thinks that," said Jan Perry, the council member who sponsored the measure. "It's basically one way, albeit a small one, to give a community its identity back."

The initiative had broad support in the black community, which has long been identified with South Central even though the area has quietly become majority Latino.

"When you want to use the codeword black, you use South Central Los Angeles. That's why people resent that terminology," said Bernard Parks, LA's former police chief recently elected to the city council, who is black himself.

Whether the name change will have much effect is open to debate. The Los Angeles stretching south from downtown and the Santa Monica freeway, all the way to the harbour at San Pedro, is not exactly a club anyone would be itching to join: repetitive and featureless, it is notorious for its dearth of hospitals, decent schools or basic infrastructure.

It is also a part of town where people notoriously muddle up the names of neighbourhoods.

When Bill Clinton addressed black supporters in the middle-class Crenshaw district during the 2000 presidential campaign, he clearly thought he was in Watts – a much poorer area 10 miles to the south synonymous with race riots in 1965 in which 34 people died.

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