I will go on adventures throughout Los Angeles.
I will document said adventures.
You will read said said adventures.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Blogging Social Difference in LA: Week 10 - Echo Park

This week I took a pleasant trip to the neighborhood Echo Park.  I took the (2) bus-line from Sunset and Wilton to Sunset and Alvarado.  The bus trip took about 30-minutes.  The bus ride was enjoyable because it was the weekend, and weekend ridership numbers are lower than what they are during the week.  I commute to school on the bus, so I left the bus trip requirement as my last assignment because I am not super eager to hop on the bus when it is not necessary.

In high school, I used to frequent the area, attending concerts at the Echo and Echoplex, which are two local venues for live entertainment.  However, as a busy college student I have not had much free time to do things like that (Going out and having fun? What's that?). 

Echo Park is an interesting neighborhood that, just like most dynamic neighborhoods, is evolving to fit the needs of its inhabitants.  Echo Park has a reputation of being a culturally diverse neighborhood; however, its residents struggle to cope with ongoing gentrification.  Roughly speaking, gentrification is the process of property acquisition by affluent individuals, usually intentions to redevelop, in areas with low property values. This way of buying property increases the property values, which drives up the cost of local rents. The most notorious effect of gentrification is displacement of low-income residents.  Typically, the most visible effect is that the white folks move in, and the minorities move out. 

I used SimplyMap to map the white population in 2000 and 2012. Clearly the white population has increased considerably in the last 12 years - Echo Park is becoming gentrified. 

It is also clear that the property values in this area have increased in the past 12 years, an effect of the neighborhood becoming whiter.   One of the residential issues in the Silver Lake – Echo Park – Elysian Valley Community Plan is ‘the loss of affordable housing’ and the “need to continue to provide a diversity of housing that is affordable to residents of various socio-economic backgrounds.”

There are many ways to look at this part of the city. One such way at viewing the neighborhood can be in terms of physical access. The physical access is not limited. Echo Park is actually known for its stairs that lead you up into the hillside residential area.
"More than two dozen public stairways cross the hillsides of Echo Park, concrete reminders of a neighborhood designed before the automobile came to the dominate the landscape and culture of Los Angeles."  

I would like to emphasize that they are public, meaning anyone can access them. 

Intuitively, it seems that having stairs interlaced throughout a neighborhood would conduce to increased physical access.  However, that is not the case!  Unless those stairs automatically escalate, then the physically disabled will have a difficult time trying to access them.  Moreover, it seems like Echo Park has a deficiency in curb cuts, and an abundance hills, both of which serve as impediments to physical access.

Echo Park provides physical access to nature.  There is a lake right in the middle of neighborhood.  Lakes are not readily accessible to the majority of Los Angeles residents.  Residents of Echo Par are fortunate enough to be within walking distance of a natural resource that is scarce in the urban environment. 

Sage - Organic Vegan Bistro  
The Dog Show - Vintage Boutique
Another way understanding the neighborhood is in terms of social access.  An individual’s social access can be increased and decreased with respect to their socio-economic background.  For someone like me, I would have limited social access to affordable housing because my income, as a student, is at poverty level. Contrastingly, the stores that are popping up more and more are actually not that accessible.  This is social, not physical, access. These stores and commonly frequented by affluent individuals that fashionably follow tending fads ("eco-conscious" "vintage") and can afford to pay for these luxuries.  For example, the organic vegan bistro (just look at that name) has an ice cream counter called "KindKreme" - organic, vegan ice cream for the eco-conscious hipster.  Don't get me wrong, as a vegetarian this place excites me but the atmosphere is a little intimidating and exclusive.  It caters to a very specific crowd.  These stores are not accessible to most minority and low-income residents of Echo Park. Echo Park is located close to Silverlake so you can expect all of that delicious hipster spillover. 

However, there seems to be an ever burgeoning industry of street vendors.  One can usually buy a fresh papusa, bacon-wrapped hot dog, or some corn-on-the-cob by merely walking up to a vendor on the street.  The street vendor industry is free-market to the extreme as it is largely unregulated by government; such practices fall in line with a neo-liberal thought [on a micro scale].  

The local street vendor industry clashes with the commercial boutique store fronts in Echo Park.  I think such clashes engender the cultural diversity and social dynamic that is characteristic to L.A.’s Echo Park.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Blogging Social Difference in LA: Week 9 - The Bus

This week I am responding to a classmate's blog about her experience riding the #2 Metro bus down Sunset (towards Downtown).
You can read her post here.

Hi Sasha! I felt compelled to respond to your blog post because I take this bus every day from Hollywood to UCLA and understand how crazy it can get. Your observations were interesting and insightful. I remember the very first time I took the bus - it was the 180 going towards Glendale and a man with a live snake around his neck boarded the bus. That was one of the scariest bus rides of my life!
I've learned that the bus is highly unpredictable - you don't know who or how many people are going to get on at each stop - the composition of people can and do change dramatically. I agree that you can see the many different kinds of people that inhabit the city and it is a good example of the effect of social difference in the city.

There is definitely a stigma attached to riding the bus in Los Angeles that isn't present in other major urban regions such as San Francisco, Chicago and New York. If you ride the bus in LA, it is assumed that you can't afford to drive a car. I don't know how accurate that is, but from my experiences and observations I believe this is true for the most part. I do know that bus riders usually have a lower socio-economic status that train riders, as trains usually have set times for commuters and go from suburbs to urbanized areas in a radial fashion, whereas the bus is much more extensive and covers the city in a grid pattern in addition to cutting through it (cross-city lines such as the 305). According to a survey administered by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority, only 25% of bus riders had a car available to make their trip compared with 45% of train riders. There is also a lower percentage of white/asian bus riders (16%) compared with train riders (28%). (Data found here: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/cpt/category/carstop/)

Your idea about the poor state of the public transit in Los Angeles as an issue of environmental justice is interesting but a bit unclear. From what I understood you felt that the Los Angeles region as a whole is a community that is unfairly exposed to the negative effects produced by automobiles (air pollution, traffic congestion, accidents, etc). However, there is no outside agent that is pushing these things upon our city. I'd like to make the point that this automobility is embedded into the city. I believe this is because Los Angeles is a city of the fourth urban revolution - a city that grew along side the innovation of the automobile. This characteristic is widespread and inescapable and as much of a social and environmental benefit it would be to reinvest in public transportation, I doubt it would be very popular. Like you, I've noticed that the majority of bus riders are students, seniors, Latino/Hispanic and black individuals. I feel that people who can afford to drive cars now will not stop doing so just because the public transit has improved. There has to be real incentive to switch over to using the Metro (like you said, you are glad to be able to drive a car and not be dependent on the Metro). A few years ago when gas prices shot up (over $5/gallon I believe) more people abandoned their cars and started taking the metro because it was considerably more affordable.

As a bus rider, I know how inefficient and frustrating it can be to take the bus but the system is not terrible. They are slowly making improvements. For example, there is now a function people can access online and on their phones called "Nextrip" which tells you when the next bus will arrive at your stop. I use this all the time and am grateful it exists! It's not always accurate but better than waiting around at a bus stop for half an hour.

Thank you for the great post! I hope your next bus trip is better than the last. (:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Blogging Social Difference in LA: Week 8 - Watts

Last weekend I decided that I wanted to visit Watts after reading about the 20th anniversary of the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. Watts was one of the districts most affected by the riots and my goal was to see how this area has changed/recovered since that time. I read two articles in the Los Angeles Times, both of which stated that there are serious economic problems in South Los Angeles that are mainly due to the poor education system.

Besides going to one place on the southern edge of this district, I had not been to Watts prior to this visit. Watts is a district within the city of Los Angeles and is quite small. It took about 20 minutes to drive around the periphery and through the district.
Watts district limits highlighted with a white dashed line.
On the drive around Watts I noticed three large public housing projects - Nickerson Gardens, Imperial Courts and Jordan Downs. We decided to visit Nickerson Gardens, the largest public housing project west of of the Mississippi River according to Wikipedia. I didn't know what to expect. The only exposure I had to it was from a Flying Lotus short film/music video. I was a little nervous and wasn't sure if the residents would appreciate someone coming in with a fancy camera taking photos of the place they live so I only have a few photos. 

After watching this video again I realized that I was in the same area as the location of the video. I recommend watching it to see what I saw, only I was there during the day time and there were less people. I don't know what to say about the video other than that it's beautiful and well-shot. I heard that the projects turn into a completely different place after dark, which might be what the video is referencing with the violence. Notice the large recreation area with open fields. There are also handball courts, a mini skatepark and indoor basketball courts. Despite it being a nice Sunday afternoon with clear skies (right after the rain), there were only a handful of kids playing and riding their bikes. 

Photo of Nickerson Gardens across Imperial Highway

The housing units were almost like barracks from the outside (although I have no idea what they look like on the inside). Despite the bleak exterior of the buildings there were some open spaces between the units and a few trees, so it wasn't completely uninviting. I thought the sign (posted above) was weird/interesting - it states that anyone who is convicted of selling drugs on the property will get an additional year of prison added to their sentence. I am not sure why that is.

 After visiting Nickerson Gardens we drove around the district. As we were driving along the Alameda corridor I noticed many junk yards. I initially thought these places were closed down due to its run-down aesthetic but they were open for business. The person I was with told me that this is where parts of stolen cars get sold (chop shops). The only other type of business I noticed were liquor stores. I noticed that the articles in the LA Times were accurate - most of the economic vitality in this region is limited to these two types of businesses, which is not saying much. I didn't notice any fast-food places or chains of any kind, not even grocery stores. It was quite desolate. I noticed a handful of people on the streets, most of whom were selling things. 

This reminded me of an article we read for class called "Riots Raise Concerns About Insurance Redlining." While it is illegal to deny insurance to businesses in high-risk areas and there are Fair Access to Insurance Requirements in place, I couldn't help but wonder if this was the case in Watts. This is an area not only affected by the 1992 riots, but the 1965 riots as well (in fact, it was the center of the latter). Over the past 50 years it has not changed much and I don't see this area recovering. It's clear that businesses are not willing to establish themselves in such a high-risk area and the only type of investments are in government-owned establishments (the housing projects). The only recreation areas I noticed were in these housing projects - I didn't notice any parks or open, green spaces outside of them. 

Here is an excerpt from Steve Lopez's article "At Tolliver's barbershop, pondering what 20 years have wrought":
"Twenty years ago, with all the promise of change and economic investment, nobody would have predicted that the future would end up looking so much like the past. With obvious exceptions and some generalization, the Santa Monica Freeway still divides the city into two distinct hemispheres, one that climbs the hills and one that never rose up."
In the article, the interviewees made a point of the poor education system in South Los Angeles and the lack of community efforts to make up for this poor system. This is a blatant example of social difference in the city of Los Angeles. Watts is located in an economically downtrodden region with a less than standard education system that limits students' options after secondary schooling. 

While the area is poor in multiple senses of the word (economically, culturally) there is one exception that I'd like to talk about. It's a small but highly successful business called Hawkin's House of Burgers located on Imperial Highway across from the Nickerson Gardens (on the outer edge of Watts). My boyfriend's relatives own this business and I've been here several times. According to him, Hawkin's "is the only place in Watts you'll find people with a college-level education." 

Two happy patrons that wanted their photo taken.

Inside the restaurant - packed as always.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Blogging Social Difference in LA: Week 7 - HOME

This week I responded to a fellow classmate's blog post about his visit to Los Feliz. Here it is:

Hi Tommy! Your post about Los Feliz made me so happy! I'm glad you visited and enjoyed my neighborhood. I've been hanging out in Franklin Village and Vermont since I was old enough to be... well, hanging out. It's what I have set my neighborhood standards to (which is why I find Westwood so underwhelming and found it difficult to enjoy while living there).
The Bourgeois Pig (wait, where's the red line? did I actually spell that correctly? haha) is my favorite cafe OF ALL TIME. I always sit in the forest room because... IT'S AMAZING and have shared many pots of tea and slices of chocolate cake on those wobbly tree stump coffee tables (as well as a considerable amount of time in that little tree nook with all the tagging/writing).

I found what you had to say about the sidewalk safety issue interesting because it's something I think about a lot, especially after visiting classic walking cities such as San Francisco and New York. Upon my return to Los Angeles I always feel that emptiness on the streets and the lack of safety. It's true that Franklin Village and Vermont and many other places around Los Angeles are the exceptions - but they are isolated. Walking to these places at night, even from my house which is a few blocks away, can be scary because of the lack of pedestrian presence and little to no street lighting. While I feel lucky to be living so close to these awesome places it still does not compare to the connectivity that these other older cities possess.  LA lacks the connectivity that I feel is necessary to make walking in a city safe. What's the point if you can walk safely for a block or two and then suddenly feel as though you're in a post-apocalyptic world? Interestingly, the center of Hollywood (Hollywood and Highland) has the same issue. It's all lights and glitter for a few blocks but as soon as you venture a little to the left or the right you get into some seedy territory.

I really liked your perspective about Los Feliz and found your post to be not only readable but quite enjoyable. Your anecdotes, funny observations and great pictures really made it a treat and I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog! Your post could have been strengthened by discussing some issues that have been raised over the past few weeks such as social/physical access. The area does differ greatly from many places in LA in that there are more people walking around, making it a pedestrian-friendly locale. However, there are a couple of areas that are not easily accessible. There is a celebrity Scientology center right across the street from the Bourgeois Pig and there are security guards on bikes circling the perimeter, making it creepy and uncomfortable to walk near/around. There is also a some-what exclusive neighborhood square (shops and all) in the hills if you go up Beachwood street that, unless you live up there or just wanted to go on an incredibly long uphill walk, wouldn't know existed.

Tommy's original post can be found here.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Blogging Social Difference in LA: Week 6 - Leimert Park

Last weekend I visited Leimert Park, a community located near the Crenshaw District, south of Mid-City. Leimert Park is one of the few black-only neighborhoods in Los Angeles and has a fascinating history. Leimert Park was established in 1928 and designed by the Olmsted Brothers, who designed Central Park. It was one of the first comprehensively planned neighborhoods in Southern California and was essentially designed to be self-sufficient, with a town center and park.

Some notable characteristics are its wide, clean streets with huge boulevards. The street parking is diagonal - not parallel to the curb. Despite this great space for automobiles, the city was designed for pedestrians. From any point in Leimert Park, the town center is easily accessible (about a 10-15 minute walk). The streets are lined with large, majestic trees that tower above the single-family homes and small apartment complexes. The architecture is quaint - not modern, or sleek at  all. There are moldings and unique colors - bright oranges and reds. You won't find any buildings taller than 2 or 3 stories here. 

In terms of the culture, it has a rich, thriving art community with several stores featuring local art, spaces reserved for free music lessons, and street fairs every weekend with impromptu jazz sessions.
Room where free music lessons/jamming take place.
Weekly drum circle at a fair in Leimert Park.

I've had the great pleasure of spending time here over the past few months and have noticed just how tight-knit this community is. It's like going back in time - everyone knows each other, people greet each other in the streets, neighbors hang out outside on the stoops, kids ride their bikes down the street.

I'd like to relate my experience here and my encounters with community members to an article titled "The Continuing Causes of Segregation" by Massey and Denton. The article makes the point that black Americans favor desegregation and are willing to implement laws to ensure fair housing. While it essentially says that the reason for such highly concentrated black populations within cities is due to discrimination and lack of access to other parts of the city and not self-segregation, I would like to make the argument that this is not always the case. Leimert Park is an exception. Just because black people favor desegregation and do not want to be discriminated against (who does? especially with such a horrible history of slavery and racism), does not necessarily mean that they want to integrate themselves into white neighborhoods and white culture. Lemeirt Park is an excellent example of such a community that, according to one long-time resident, would not have the same sense of solidarity and cohesion if it was a mixed neighborhood.

The cultural unity in the neighborhood is outstanding and not something you encounter too often in such a post-metropolis landscape such as Los Angeles. It's very possible that the members in this community find comfort and pleasure in being surrounded by similar individuals and do not wish to move out, despite having the means. The neighborhood is largely middle class - it is not mired in poverty, it does not lack resources, its citizens are not largely unemployed or lacking in skills/training. This is what allows people to create such a rich culture centered around art, music, and food.

This is not to say that discrimination in housing markets does not exist or that all black Americans want to live in homogenous neighborhoods, on the contrary. However, I found it interesting that this particular neighborhood is so tight-knit due to its mostly uni-racial makeup.

This leads to many questions about culture.  What happens to black culture when black individuals move into largely white neighborhoods - do they assimilate or not? Does white flight occur simply because there is a noticeable black population in the community or because they find black culture intolerable?

The article written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, "Fear of a Black President" explores the blanching of black culture, particularly with Obama's presidency. The president is attacked for simply mentioning race. I wonder if the same thing happens in largely white neighborhoods with a growing black population? Does black culture make white people uncomfortable or feel threatened? It's amazing that so many people in my generation have been raised with this "Everyone is equal. Peace and love" mentality but when you think about it, it hasn't even been 50 years since the Civil Rights movement - since it was considered right and legal to segregate people based on race. This feeling of intimidation and out right racism is still very present today amongst white individuals, and is not limited to older people. I was so shocked to read the many racist and deplorable things (including death threats) said about our president right after the election. It was like a slap in the face and made me wonder if we've really made any progress.