Saturday, August 26, 2006

am i the gentry?

So, due to the fact that my absent neighbor's clock radio started blasting non-stop KOST 103 at 6 o'clock this morning, I got an early start (argh). Nothing like waking up to Taylor Dayne screaming "Love Will Lead You Back" at you. On the bright side, this meant a long walk before it got too hot, and a lazy morning with coffee, the Onion, and the LA Weekly. It also means a long, rambling, disjointed rant. Don't say I didn't warn you.

An interesting parallel occurred. There was an editorial in the Onion entitled "Sometimes I feel Like I'm The Only One Trying To Gentrify This Neighborhood". The guy was flustered because no one was on board with his ideas to turn his hood's yards filled with Virgin Mary statues into a bocce courts, and because the place where he gets his 50-cent coffee refuses to start serving lattes -- he'd gladly "pay the extra three bucks", and is "sure everyone else around here would, too". Nice.

Then, the LA Weekly's cover story was "Welcome to Gentrification City" -- about how the crazy real estate market is changing the face of all kinds of areas in Los Angeles, better for some, worse for others. Gentrification is always seen as a dirty word -- they made over the seedy character of 42nd Street; they plopped a soulless open-air mall on the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Highland (not to mention a Hooters and yet another American Apparel across the street) and a Target butted against the historic Formosa Cafe; they tore down such-and-such charming Spanish-style duplex to build a high-rise condo yuppie-plex.

But I'm of two minds about it. I live in the Fairfax district, in a sweet old rent-controlled building. I love my neighborhood, and I know that my rent is a steal. I associate with the east side and its street-wise ethnically-diverse character, but I can't deny the fact that I'm just a short walk away from the Beverly Center. But I feel it around me too -- when I moved here, the Farmer's Market was the old famous Farmer's Market, not the food court to the Grove. The resort community of Palazzo hadn't yet shoved its way onto Third street with Gestapo-like security checkpoints and overbearing off-orange architecture. Whole Foods was Albertsons.

But I can't deny it -- I spend a few minutes in Whole Foods nearly every day. The Grove sucks me in as hard as I try to fight it. And Palazzo -- well, actually I have nothing good to say about Palazzo.

I talk often about my love for hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and I really do enjoy a good find. But, lately my outings have gotten quite fancy -- even a weekend breakfast for one can take me to Beverly Hills. I love frolicking through Koreatown -- cheap food, adventures in ordering in Spanish, lots of people out on the streets. But could I actually live there? I mean, the rent is pocket change, lots of great buildings. So what's holding me back?

Guess what, I'm the gentry. I mean, obviously I am. I come from an affluent family, I grew up in a predominantly Jewish suburb in the hills surrounding the San Fernando Valley, and even now, I drive a nice car, do alright for myself financially (constant grumbling about my paltry wages notwithstanding), and as soon as I hit publish will stifle my own protests and embark on a Beverly Center shopping spree, despite the fact that shopping at that place sucks the life out of me.

So what? What do I want? What's my stance? As usual, in the middle. There is a bit in the article where an LA city councilman is touting all the improvements he's made to MacArthur Park - decimated the crime rate and added a library to the area. Well, I hate crime and love libraries, so this all sounds great. Then came the rebuttal, a local mom concerned that she won't be around to see the improvements. Um, yeah.

The problem with gentrification is that it drives the community out of the community. That whole money thing always wins. I know it would cost me hundreds more a month if I were to move into my neighborhood today instead of 4 years ago.

I have a positive thought. There are times where neighborhood revitalization comes from within. I like it when that happens. We've talked about the ray of sunshine that is Scoops, shining bright in borderline-shady Melrose Hill (ironically, the LA Weekly article talks about gelato shops, like the new Pazzo's in Silver Lake, as a sure sign of the coming gentry). And about Wilshire Vista, experiencing a slow steady gentrification as members of the community build up their neighborhood with shiny new businesses. There's also Mama's Hot Tamales, a cafe overlooking MacArthur Park that does more than just serve food. It's a restaurant that offers an array of savory and sweet tamales from countries across South America, along with smooth gourmet coffee. However it also serves as a classroom -- it's a non-profit urban development project wherein locals are trained in food management and business development. From there, the program leads them to their own business -- the idea is to turn MacArthur park into a destination where people can enjoy the diverse culture of the area's residents, through colorful carts vending food, jewelry, and crafts. I like this idea. Can we (er, I guess they) do more of this?

So, that's it. I gotta go shell out $150 on a pair of shoes then stop for some tacos and maybe wash the whole thing down with a venti soy latte, get ready for Alon's book signing in Beverly Hills, but first scope out the latest restaurants that got a C so I can get something authentic for dinner. Yeah.


  1. So, did you find some cute shoes?

  2. Eric and I endeavor to start the Anti-Gentrification League of NYC: you know, using petty crime and street filth to drive away the inevitable hipsters that move in and raise neighborhood rents. Some places (like Bushwick, Brooklyn) are waaaay ahead of us on this one. Can't wait for you to come and visit!

  3. the thing is annie, you are the hippest of the hipsters. you dig? my next move is totally to fontana.

    and alas, tsp, i found a great pair of shoes (they're burgundy), but they are too expensive. i'm still milling it over. maybe i'm not the gentry after all.