On gentrification

I live in a neighborhood that is, as is said, on the ‘up and up.’ This is to say that it’s a neighborhood that used to be cheap, and primarily filled with working class families–usually Latino–and is now slowly transitioning into a much more expensive area filled with white, upwardly mobile hipster types like (I hesitate to admit it) me, and my slumlords (read: my spectacularly kind and thoroughly interesting college friends who are renting me a standalone room in their backyard at a deeply discounted rate).

I’m in between Atwater Village and Glassell Park with a slight leaning on the Atwater side. The neighborhood is jokingly referred to as the place hipsters go to spawn.*

This is northeastern Los Angeles and a veritable hotbed of such hipsta-fying trends. Considering I have also lived in Eagle Rock, Silverlake and (albeit very briefly) Atwater Village proper over the course of my adult life, I may, despite myself, be among the rushing blood which makes for the pulse of gentrification in L.A.

This is something of a quandary for a Marxist like me. I am a student and thus poor (but with a wildly cushy safety net provided me by the very parents who–despite themselves, perhaps–turned me into a poor, radical academic). I am also of Anglo stock with an unusually high level of education (economically unsound, even–my PhD isn’t too likely to get me employed any time soon, thank you very much State of California). I follow a certain group of what can only be called fads–in music and food and, to some minimal degree, clothing and technology. These trends can be securely located in the ‘hipster’ trajectory–read: white, educated, privileged and ever-so-slightly off center.

There is, however, one benefit to the early waves of gentrification in Los Angeles and, I imagine, everywhere else. In its nascent stages, it makes for fantastic and incongruous juxtapositions. The boxes of old encyclopedias and scientific discovery anthologies left out by older residents are picked up for their kitsch value and made into art by the newer residents. Some thirty-something lady (I’m not saying it was me) walks down the street in a pink onesie and cowboy boots and is so ridiculously beyond the cultural scope of onlookers as to prevent any cat-calls. Broken Spanish is exchanged by locals and transplants alike over the wandering elotes cart.

It means no one knows quite how to behave and so everyone has to, more or less, come to some kind compromise. This fact has huge linguistic impacts, as well as some less savory cultural ones.

No one I like wants to live in a homogeneous neighborhood. But no one I like wants to be a contributing factor to the homogenization of a neighborhood either. The former fact has an antagonistic relationship to the latter. Show up, and you bring a wave of your kind with you. Stay away, and a different sort of homogeneity prevails.

This is nothing, I suppose, but the truth of urban development in late-stage, post-modern capitalism. It’s a rough lot. Though one wonders, even someone like me, if there isn’t a tiny liminal and ephemeral space, somewhere in the flow. And, one hopes to be lucky. One hopes that such a space not only exists but can be positively charged.


*O.K. It’s me that refers to the neighborhood thusly. But I bet I’m not the only one.