The Watts Project:
On Gentrification and Disenfranchisement
(Editorial) By Aaron Bowden
5. Personal Interview; Gussie Bowden 5/29/2010
(Editorial) By Jose Ortega
Gentrification and urban gentrification denote the socio-cultural changes in an area resulting from wealthier people buying housing property in a less prosperous community. Consequent to gentrification, the average income increases and average family size decreases in the community, which may result in the informal economic eviction of the lower-income residents, because of increased rents, house prices, and property taxes. This type of population change reduces industrial land use when it is redeveloped for commerce and housing. In addition, new businesses, catering to a more affluent base of consumers, tend to move into formerly blighted areas, further increasing the appeal to more affluent migrants and decreasing the accessibility to less wealthy natives.
Urban gentrification occasionally changes the culturally heterogeneous character of a community to a more economically homogeneous community that is described as having a suburban character. This process is sometimes made feasible by government-sponsored private real estate investment repairing the local infrastructure, via deferred taxes, mortgages for poor and for first-time house buyers, and financial incentives for the owners of decayed rental housing. Once in place, these economic development actions tend to reduce local property crime, increase property values and prices and increase tax revenues.
Takin' Back the Community
Gentrification has happened since ancient times. The word gentrification is of much later origin. It derives from gentry, which is derived from the Old French word genterise denoting “of gentle birth” (14th c.) and “people of gentle birth” (16th c.); which in England (Landed gentry) denoted the highest social class below the nobility. In 1964 British sociologist Ruth Glasscoined the term “gentrification” to denote the influx of middle-class people to cities and neighborhoods, displacing the lower-class worker residents.
Gentrification happens everywhere, not just one city or state or even country. On Skid Row, Los Angeles, the homeless sleep with their boots on so rats do not nibble their feet. The streets are almost entirely derelict except for mercy missions, a handful of heavily barricaded liquor stores and fish warehouses lined with razor wire. The poor sleep in flop houses and drag their few possessions around in shopping carts that are raided or stolen. Everywhere is the pungent smell of old clothes, stale alcohol and urine.
In a city with greater contrasts of wealth and poverty than, perhaps, anywhere else in the Western world these few blocks, within walking distance of the gleaming skyscrapers of downtown LA, are the lowest of the low. It helps explain, perhaps, why the booming business districts in the area are now more determined than ever to erase Skid Row off the map and push its downtrodden residents away for good.
An umbrella organization called Takin' Back the Community successfully lobbied city officials to initiate closure proceedings against 17 of the area's surviving businesses - 11 cheap hotels, three mini-markets, two bars and a restaurant - on the grounds that they are seedbeds of crime and nuisance behavior. Part of the intention is to clean up the area and make it fit for durable business investments. But the move also triggered angry condemnation from Skid Row activists who say it amounts to intimidation of thousands of desperate people with nowhere else to go. Take away their housing and their shops, the argument goes, and they are left with nothing.
Should poverty be contained in a well-defined area like a ghetto, or simply swept out of sight? For years, the police and city council veered towards the former. But now, with the economy enjoying a boom cycle, the business community is choosing to see things differently. Various so- called Business Improvement Districts, representing garment workers, toy manufacturers and fish freezing companies, have sent private security guards into Skid Row to challenge loiterers, issue warnings and alert the police to behavior that might warrant a fine or an arrest. Skid Row activists accuse the guards of using powers they do not legally have to push the poor around. The result is startling: much of the southern end of Skid Row, considered ripe for takeover by the garment district, has been cleared out. Mobile meal providers, who have handed out food for years, are now being told by police that they are no longer welcome. Homeless men who sift through garbage cans to fish out recyclables are being routinely arrested for theft.
Organization has lobbied for years to put portable toilets on the streets. Periodically these have arrived, but other homeless activists accuse her of failing to maintain them to hygienic standards; she says city contractors are deliberately failing to carry out their contractual obligation to keep them clean.
Los Angeles is in a state of flux. The demand by the middle class and upper middle class to live in an urban environment has spread to L.A. New and converted properties are being developed in the downtown market with great success for the great majority. That will change - over a much longer time than necessary. The help of the government is needed to effectuate this change in a timely way to keep up with the need for positive change. Government seems reluctant to assist with this change as it is “politically sensitive”! Replacing a poor person by a middle class one is dangerous in today’s world, it seems. There are a number of issues that confront us in the prospect of gentrifying downtown L.A. The first is protecting the interests of those who will be disenfranchised. The second is a plan to allow for the upgrading of commercial spaces. The time now is ripe for change. Times and economies change. Los Angeles should take advantage of this timing to effectuate the positive change that the residents of this great city deserve.
Is it good or bad? People will always have their own opinions. Its not only opinions but facts that go along with gentrification. Facts about who is affected from the gentrification, why it is important for the community to stand either for it or against it, and who is really going to benefit from it. Politicians it seems only want what is the best money maker for a city. They often don’t realize it’s the middle/poor class that gets affected. They don’t realize that most of the children now days come from those home. If our children our being taken from their homes over and over again, they will never learn to be stable. They won’t know what family life is like and they won’t understand when they grow up. The cycle it seems is never-ending. People will never agree on what is right and what is wrong. However finding a middle to make sure everyone can be somewhat equal and have a fair chance at life is what we must work towards.