Gentrification in Downtown Los Angeles

Tucked away in the quiet Arts District of downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) stands the aged brick alleyway of Daily Dose Café, which once served as the primary railroad passage to deliver goods in the city; however, it now operates as a local gathering place for the growing community of entrepreneurs, artists and young professionals settling in the area. A cluster of photographers stand at the entrance of the pathway setting up their camera equipment and preparing for a photo shoot, where a group of twenty-something year olds chat and sip their iced coffees at a nearby table. The image of downtown Los Angeles has radically changed within the last few decades. The Daily Dose Café and Arts District are prime examples of the changing socio-economic and physical landscapes that DTLA has undergone in recent years.

Timeworn structures ranging from the historic  on Broadway to the old, abandoned warehouses and factories that are scattered throughout the downtown area, especially in the Arts District, are being revitalized and transformed into lofts, hybrid industrial (HI) living and work spaces, restaurants, and bars to appease its latest residents. The redevelopment projects and revitalization efforts to repurpose these existing structures and urban neighborhoods would be considered one of the primordial stages of a process known as gentrification.

The newly renovated Clifton’s Cafeteria which reopened in September 2015 as a bar and restaurant.

Certainly there are both positive and negative sentiments that could be shared regarding the issue of gentrification depending on whom you ask. Dana Cuff, a professor of architecture and urban design at the University of California at Los Angeles, has stated that there are two problems that arise when gentrification occurs. The first problem that Cuff highlights would be housing affordability, and the second would be compromising the overall character of an existing neighborhood as a consequence of the method. Cuff has noted that individuals who own property in a neighborhood that is undergoing gentrification will always perceive the process positively, but those whom are renting or looking for new housing will experience the negative effects of the process. The practice of gentrification challenges the concept of social justice within a city amongst its residents. Gentrification leaves the lower-income residents in the city with no other option than to relocate, as they are now unable to afford the higher living costs of the area. As a result, this in turn causes individuals and families to either become homeless or are forced to transfer to higher crime rate neighborhoods that may leave them more susceptible to gang and street violence.

A few positive features often upheld regarding the justification of gentrification are that it can boost a city’s economic standing as well as establish a platform for the city to ultimately flourish. Gentrification generates jobs and property-tax revenue for a city. Cities and public figures are attracted to the concept of gentrification because it can guarantee monetary advances for the city. Loretta Lee, a professor of Human Geography at King’s College, disclosed the appeal of financial gains that gentrification presents for a city. Lee stated that gentrification aids in a city’s effort to garner tourist dollars, new residents and investors in the universal scale of capitalism and competition amongst cities. It has also been noted that gentrification reduces crime rates within cities as greater numbers of law enforcement are usually recruited to generate a sense of safety for its newest residents.

Both the positive and negative effects of gentrification could be experienced extensively within the City of Angels; the redevelopment process has even extended beyond the constraints of the central downtown area. Gentrification is occurring throughout the entire perimeters of Los Angeles County. It can be observed to the north of downtown around Echo Park and Silverlake, to the east around the Boyle Heights area and to the south and west near USC and Koreatown. There have been numerous articles published in recent years that investigate the latest desire that many young Americans possess to move to the golden coast. The New York Times recently published an article stating that many east coast natives are choosing to relocate to Los Angeles for the opportunities that are arising in the business, technology and creative industries. The influx of new residents wanting to settle in Los Angeles can be perceived positively as it will enhance the city’s economic standing, but it begs the question as to where the new occupants will reside. Therefore, there have been public hearings held at the Los Angeles City Hall recently regarding the proposal of investors and developers to begin improvement projects to the area east of downtown in hopes of transforming nonoperational factories and warehouses into hybrid industrial living and work spaces.

According to the demographics provided by the 2013 Downtown of Los Angeles Demographic study, which was published by the Downtown Center BID and the United States Census Bureau’s demographics for Los Angeles County, there are approximately 52,400 individuals that reside in downtown. Of these residents, the average household income figure is $98,700. The 2013 average household income amount is a huge increase when comparing it to the city’s 2007 average household income figure, which was around $54,000 (“Big Numbers and Big Money in Downtown Survey”). These statistics would indicate that neighborhoods in downtown have become primarily middle and upper class individuals and families. Higher housing costs would clearly create a large disparity between the type of individuals that would be residing downtown, and it would force those whom do not make enough income to move out of the area.

Gentrification is a part of our country’s past, present and will undoubtedly continue to be present in its future, and traces of gentrification can be identified in any major city within the United States. While some entities, such as civic leaders, encourage redevelopment efforts and gentrification as a measure to improve a city’s value, there remains a faction of others, such as low-income renters, whom oppose the process. Therefore, as citizens, we must truly evaluate at what cost we are paying for this change and to determine if it is really worth it both socially and economically?




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