Longtime MASS-transit and pedestrian advocate Diego Cardoso is in charge of building the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s light rail into Boyle Heights and beyond, intended to revivify the Eastside neighborhood sliced and diced by four freeways in the name of urban renewal during the last half of the 20th century. As former chair of the city’s Housing Commission, he jump-started Boyle Heights’ revival by re-imagining the downbeat, gangbanging Pico-Aliso public-housing project as the upbeat, mixed-income neighborhood-on-transit called Pueblo del Sol. And now, as one of the city’s new planning commissioners, he stands at the very crossroads of transportation investment, housing policy and land use — the place where decisions about city-building are made, and a vantage from which he may really be able to reconnect L.A.’s East and West sides.
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Meantime, Cardoso’s real passion is painting, and in his spare time he is hurriedly documenting neighborhoods to the east, south and in L.A.’s downtown at their very moment of transformation, committing to canvas the humble street corners and derelict buildings as they exist now even as he is responsible for making them over into something else. Using Van Gogh’s vivid palette, he revels in the everyday urbanism of life on these streets — the birthday parties held in sideyards, the aromatic blooms of the guayabanas, the hand-painted signs, the street vendors with their pushcarts, the murals depicting landscapes of hometowns left behind. In these hardscrabble neighborhoods, says Cardoso, one can conjure up Gabriel García Márquez’s Macondo — the place where both reality and dreams abide. But, he cautions, you can’t drive there. You have to walk slowly enough so that you can truly see and hear and smell. Cardoso’s paintings hang in City Hall and in the offices of elected officials, and are frequently on display at Boyle Heights’ Homegirl Café.