gentrification games

Gentrify |ˈjentrəˌfī| (verb): renovate and improve so that it conforms to middle-class taste.

Gentrification describes the process of "urban renewal" in working class neighborhoods. Typically this begins with the construction of condos that attract young urban professional tenants (yuppies). Development and rennovation drive up rents and push out lower income residents.

Paradoxically, the process often begins with influxes of local artists looking for affordable places to live --  giving a neighborhood a "bohemian" aesthetic. This new character eventually attracts well-to-do residents who find the atmosphere desirable. The displacement of lower income artists and residents (often ethnic/racial minorities) is a direct result of this rapidly changing social character. 

Gentrification also involves an influx of upmarket local businesses and shops that cater to the tastes and lifestyles of affluent new inhabitants. Businesses like sushi resaturants, couture coffee bars, and high-end clothing boutiques come to replace local long-standing businesses displaced by higher rents.

I bring up this definition, not because I am anti-gentrification, but because I take issue with the limited options and lack of imagination present in the ongoing development of modern cities. Taking into account the desires and needs of only the most privileged population is not only deluded but unsustainable. Surely there is a way to grow and develop urban environments that allow for greater diversity (social, economic, and cultural) and that respect and preserve the history of a place. 

The pictures below capture scenes at the edges of Downtown Los Angeles. These are the environments that still reflect the grit, personality, problems, and history of a city in flux.

The Gentrification Game: 6th Street Viaduct Bridge Replacement Project

What once was a deserted industrial district -- primarily inhabited by textile manufacturers, cold storage companies, artists in need of cheap studio space, and wandering vagrants -- is today the trendy Downtown Los Angeles "Arts District". The shift from lawless artist's playground to corporate developer's wet-dream has taken place in fits and starts over the past twenty plus years. The once eclectic (albeit unsafe) neighborhood has been and continues to be a controversial testing ground for experiments in gentrification. 

Just this month the City of Los Angeles broke ground on a three-year, $400 million project to replace the 6th Street Viaduct Bridge -- which happens to connect the aforementioned "Arts District" to the adjacent Boyle Heights neighborhood. Public Works officials say the project is necessary because of defective concrete used during the construction of the bridge in 1932. Due to a high alkali content the concrete erodes and cracks easily -- making it a severe earthquake hazard -- and too expensive to retrofit and maintain.

The steel arches that stretch the central portion of the bridge have been made familiar by films and television shows that span several decades - including Grease, Terminator 2, aaaand let’s not forget Kayne’s “Jesus Walks” music video. The LA film industry will surely mourn the loss of this iconic shooting location. However, east coast trust funders - I mean transplants - taking up residence at the recently finished One Santa Fe Lofts down the street will easily forget it ever existed.

Earlier this week I walked the length of the nearly mile long structure to say my goodbyes and  take some pictures. I plan on documenting the bridge replacement project each month until the new design is finished. Check back for updates.