Friday, June 12, 2009

Socio-Culturo-Politico Thursdays: Gentrification Roll Call

When I moved back to my hometown of Los Angeles in 1998 I thought I had stepped into a ghost town. In the black community there were blocks and blocks of empty commercial buildings and in the residential areas, there were abandoned, half-eaten homes. The decline increased rapidly right after the 1992 civil unrest and was at an apex at the end of that decade.

Shortly after, the famous homeless tent city in downtown Los Angeles was being bulldozed and the tenants were being forced out. There were rumors that downtown Los Angeles was about to go through a serious transformation. And it did. Today, the downtown L.A. that I knew has been replaced with gorgeous restored buildings and renovated warehouse spaces that are serving as upscale trendy lofts. You have the Staples Center and this new addition right across the street called L.A. Live, which is supposed to be a West Coast rendition of New York’s Time Square. Of course, it does not come close and is only a bunch of blinding lights and frou frou fake madness. Horrible copycats.

Now, on the surface, people might think. Isn’t that nice that L.A. is getting cleaner and fancier for its residents? Those homeless people need to get a job and get the hell on. But that is a convenient answer and one that is uninformed and filled with historical and political gaps. Gentrification happened in Los Angeles, and just like the California economy, the ones who benefited is not the common resident, and definitely were not the residents who sustained those broken sections of Los Angeles while the scarred lived in gated communities on the Westside or left the area for the desert.

According to Merriam Webster, gentrification is the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents. It is the reverse white flight that happened when blacks began moving into the cities in the early 1900s for more job opportunities. Back then white folk created suburbs, or communities outside of the city, but most of them still worked in the metropolises.

To give you a quick example of how white flight undermined cities, I will talk about education. Now, when people bitch and beef about inner city schooling without understanding the politics of it all they actually support the myth that inner cities offer poor education because the children and the communities are biologically crippled due to circumstances.

So let’s do basic suburban life 101. You have John who lives in Oxnard, but works in downtown Los Angeles. He makes a $1 million plus a year. Now John makes sure that he is out of the city before dark and is back home comfortably with his wife and children. His children go to schools that are ample in resources and parent support. John’s wife, Sue is a typical stay-at-home soccer mom who shuttles her children back-and-forth, and is very involved. This is what the American Dream offers, so I’m not hating.

Now when it comes time for taxes and John pays for his house taxes which go directly to the school district where he lives, it does not account for the money he makes in a neighborhood he has absolutely no financial or political obligation. Oh, I’m sorry, he does donate $100 to the NAACP yearly. If John worked and lived in the same area than his taxes would greatly help the local schools.

However, where John works, most of the residents are unemployed, underemployed, and undocumented workers. The schools in downtown Los Angeles barely function off of subsidized money. The little resources have been allocated by someone who probably has been working for the LA Unified School District before downtown L.A. became a mess and cannot understand why these Mexicans and Blacks never get their shit together.

One question that someone might ask is, “Why do rich people want to move to the hood?” Well, inner cities are the prime property throughout the country. Cities are the most developed, or at the very least, are the easiest to renovate. They are near the major government facilities, water & electric supplies, and have the oldest history of the city. Most cities have precious underground pathways that have been abandoned, but can be restored, and all major cities were built by a significant body of water and sacred lands of the former indigenous people that were massacred. Plus the intricately mapping of the cities made these metropolitans an architectural and geographical landmine.

For example, my parents live a 10 minute drive from the beach by the highway, 10 minutes from LAX airport, and live about a 3 – 7 minute drive to five major freeways. But where they live is South Central. The social stigma of the place draws people away, but in the back door there are people waiting to snatch the land.

Now, now dear one, L.A. is definitely not the only city that has experienced the ugliness of gentrification. There are cities like Harlem that you would not even recognize. About seven years ago I saw a Jewish couple walking a poodle at night on Lenox Avenue and 119th. Yes, gentrification is coming to a hood near you. And though it could be stopped, it will take a miracle to remove the crust of ignorance from millions.

Gentrification usually begins to occur around a section of the city where commercial and government wants to rebuild. Look for historical landmarks or buildings, usually around a mega university, a large water source, a lucrative business district, or a sports arena for football, baseball, or basketball. These areas have serious social and economic ills such as high crime and power. The property value is also ridiculously low so that investment firms will buy large numbers of plots and monopolize ownership. Once a significant portion is

So here is your gentrification roll call. These are not all the cities…please add (click on cities for links to gentrification articles)
Harlem (NYC)
Los Angeles
Montreal, Canada
New York City (Manhattan/Washington Heights & Lower East Side/Chinatown)
New Orleans
St. Louis
Washington D.C.
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