Echo Park: Yoga Wars in a Gentrifying Barrio
Echo Park was such a gang battlefield in the 1980s and 1990s that the community's hardscrabble streets inspired a Hollywood movie, Mi Vida Loca, introducing the cholo phrase "my crazy life" to America.
Yoga Echo Park / Facebook
How things have changed. Now Echo Park is Hipstertown, part of an alleged new Eastside that's somehow still west of downtown. And the biggest war in the barrio these days apparently involves yoga.
There's a turf battle over Yoga Echo Park, a fairly new, three-times-a-week meet-up that uses the grass of Echo Park Lake to get its namaste on.
Some haters on the Yahoo! Echo Elysian Neighborhood Council Forum weren't too happy that the organizer is using public property, and possibly making money in the process.
Said one commenter:
This person is probably charging while using prime lawn space at the park. This is just as bad as the guys on blankets selling used clothing. How do we stop this.
The controversy, first reported by the Eastsider L.A., has raised the question of whether such organized activities should happen on public park space. In Santa Monica, residents complained about group workouts at parks with trainers who charged money, leading to a permit program for the trainers.
But Echo Park's story is different.
Yoga Echo Park founder Steven Arcos, a lifelong resident of the community, started the classes at the end of July to bring people to the park following its renovation. He tells us:
I wanted to have a place where I could bring people together, share ideas. We're in the same community. Let's build this community together. I grew up around here and the park was not as attractive. It was the place where you would find gang members, drug dealers and homeless.
And there are a couple of interesting details to the story: For one thing, Arcos says, you don't have to pay to participate. A $5 "donation" is suggested but not required. Arcos:
I don't collect money, I don't charge anybody. I just put the basket out.
Secondly, the city doesn't issue permits for such group activity. "You don't have to have a permit to do yoga in the park," Arcos says.
LAPD officers have come by to offer greetings, he adds.
The classes on Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday draw as many as 30 people. "Now there's a new path of bringing positive energy," Arcos says.