The trend toward gentrification has been proliferating in cities all around the world for many years, pitting the poor and the homeless against real estate developers, the police and upscale residents returning to "reclaim" the inner city. As long as there have been low-income neighborhoods, there have been those who want to remove them — and those who have, as a result, been left with no place to go. -- by Tom Slater, who wrote an excellent piece about the battle over Skid Row. He provides useful historical context on gentification in America.
The LA Times recently printed a special report, entitled A Community's Ethnic Tradition in Transition, about the gentrification occurring in LA Chinatown. The title should have been, The Rape of Chinatown (again and again and again). When are we going to learn?
Unfortunately, the article is untimely, as the gradual, yet speedy, process of gentrification had already begun in Chinatown about six years ago, when white artists discovered how cool (and cheap) it would be to have their studios and galleries there. Long ago, I remember walking through Chung King Road with Joe Mak in shock and disgust. Now it seems normal...
It appears to be shifting into overdrive. Loft conversions, mixed-use projects and luxury apartments are on the horizon. Director Quentin Tarantino has even bought an old theater where he plans to show Asian films.
The situation has created a culture clash. Some old-timers complain about the rowdy behavior of the new patrons. There are periodic flare-ups over art shows that some longtime Chinatown merchants consider too racy. Some elderly residents worry about being pushed out by gentrification.
Gentrification always begins with the artists. Yuppie scum arrives shortly thereafter. Before you know it, housing markets and retail prices skyrocket. Local residents can no longer live in neighborhoods that they and their families have lived in for generations... and they can't afford to live anywhere else in the city, because all the once "blighted" communities are "revitalizing", hence pushing them to the booty suburbs. They are displaced and forgotten, while rich white residents enjoy their new cool ethnic digs. This pretty much sums up the process. Gross, huh?
Downtown loft developers have caught the vibe. "Chinatown is one of those best-kept secrets," said Kate Bartolo, senior vice president for Kor Realty Group, which is planning a development.
Several years ago, Joe Mak and I, and a few others, acquired property in Chinatown to be used as a multi-purpose space for local residents to congregate (and reclaim their community!). My goal was to do it covertly, incognito-style and shit. We failed, unfortunately, because we were naive and wasted time trying to develop a collective, rather than a movement, while others made back-door deals with the landowners. It was a crushing experience, but it made me truly believe that ownership is power. Well, like He-Man says, knowing is half the battle!