Downtown Gentrification Gets Website

by johnk Thursday, Jun. 21, 2001 at 10:20 AM
johnk@woodstock.com

NewDowntown.com is going to launch, marking another phase in the gentrification of downtown LA. Watch the marginalization of the poor and nonwhite, as it happens!

City planners and liberals love it when the urban core becomes "gentrified," or populated by the middle class, but for radical leftists (and even some right wingers) it's a dirty word. The gentry's new money is usually accompanied by a revision of the city's history which carefully neglects the poor people who are moved out of the city to make room for the gentry.

Until recently, the two main boosters for Downtown LA's gentrification were the LA Downtown News, a free weekly that reads like New Times for city planning nerds, and Joel Kotkin of the LA Times, a pro-small-business multiculturalist who practically orgasms verbally when writing about immigrant entrepreneurs. The newdowntown.com site seems to be a progression toward something less celebratory. I suspect we're going to start seeing a lot more about creating a "new" downtown instead of documenting what's already there. Their revisionist history will cover for the demographic damage they're going to assist.

What's already there aren't just the cool old buildings and high ceilinged lofts that yuppies can't seem to get enough of. What's there is a preexisting culture and economy that's going to be pushed out of town, and into the suburbs.

Generally, moving from the city to the suburb is considered a "step up", but with the new downtown gentrification, it's a big step down. Downgraded social services, downgraded public transpo options, downgraded community, downgraded employment options. Suburban cities, unlike LA, don't have a social infrastructure that can handle low income people. Despite this, the number of poor in the 'burbs continues to grow.

Every time I go to the hardware store, I get "spare changed" by a homeless person. When I visit friends, I'm confronted with drug dealing and street prostitution. People have bars on their windows. School performance is declining. I'm not talking about downtown LA. I'm talking about Pico Rivera, Panorama City, Alhambra, and Montebello. Poverty in the 'burbs is already a real problem.

Gentrifying downtown is not eliminating poverty. It only moves it out of town, into the 'burbs, and into the poorest parts of the close ones first, where the rents are low. These are the cities like Bell Gardens, Huntington Park, Compton, Palms, Pacoima, East LA, NW Pasadena, and Eagle Rock.

The role of newdowntown.com appears to be filtering out this reality, to create a new downtown free of homeless, the poor, old people, and low end businesses. They're creating a new history that'll give new residents the intellectual armor to deflect the arrows criticism shot at them.

Already, their lone page shows off a limited view of downtown: old architecture, a young white woman, loft spaces, a party, and language about "revitalizing downtown" and an "urban lifestyle".

They say they want to make it a better place for "everyone". The question is, does "everyone" include the transient residents, the homeless, the taxi dancers and prostitutes, the CD bootleggers? Does it include people who don't communicate in English? Does it include older people? Does it include the people who are going to be displaced by the yuppies?

I'm not bashing newdowntown.com, yet. I'm just telling you all: get your bashing bats out.


[Disclaimer: the author is a suburbanite.]

PS . The LA Downtown News reports that a new development is being constructed that will resemble an old building, and will sell out loft-style condos. That's right, they're making a new structure which simulates an old warehouse converted into loft residences. Warehouse conversions, in turn, originally simulated warehouse spaces that artists were modifying so they could live in them. The artists, in turn, were simulating, in part, the production of industrial goods in areas zoned for commercial use.