'Welcome to Gentrification City'

WeeklyI just received an email from a local editor-in-chief which reads, "David Zahniser's piece in this week's LA Weekly .. is brilliant. I'm jealous." The subject of the rave is a takeout examining the social effect of the condo conversions and other increments of gentrification that are altering the essence of Los Angeles and neighboring cities like Manhattan Beach. The piece comes out in tomorrow's Weekly. Some excerpts, starting with the nature of the beast:

Welcome to Gentrification City, where an overheated real estate market is dramatically reshaping neighborhood after neighborhood, where no one � from Salvadoran immigrants living in tenements to homeowners in affluent coastal neighborhoods � is being spared by the dramatic changes wrought by a condo-fueled, property-mad economy. Tenants are appalled by rising rents, fearing the day their buildings could be demolished or cleaned out for a new class of buyer. Homeowners who have built up a ridiculous amount of equity have watched even as their communities change before their eyes. The sense of dislocation is everywhere.

For those higher up the economic food chain, the transformation wrought by gentrification can be a heady, if occasionally disorienting, experience. Homes have tripled and even quadrupled in value. Fix-�n�-flip artists are buying up cottages and adding the telltale signs of the comfortable class � ornamental grasses on the outside, refinished floors on the inside, earth tones throughout. Low-income neighborhoods long dominated by 99-cent stores, with their discount tube socks and corn flakes from Mexico, are suddenly sporting Zagat-worthy businesses....

For those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, the dislocation is far more precarious. Landlords, developers and even government agencies are pushing tenants out of hard-to-find rental units, sending them to the outer reaches of Los Angeles or even neighboring counties and states. With rents reaching historic highs, the departure of a single roommate can throw a household into disarray, leaving those behind to scramble for a new roommate or another scarce apartment.

Everyone wants to talk about gentrification � unless, of course, that conversation is on the record, printable in a newspaper.

Then the metaphor:

Perhaps the best way to understand gentrification is to view it as something akin to a weather pattern, like a tsunami, a hurricane or a driving rainstorm. Like the storm systems that pass through Los Angeles each winter, gentrification starts with the ocean, where buyers have shown themselves willing to pay outrageous sums to live near the water. The most expensive property in Los Angeles � and in the United States as a whole � is along the coastline, where properties routinely run in the seven figures.
Like most weather patterns that sweep across Southern California, gentrification primarily moved from west to east throughout the late 1990s, passing through neighborhood after neighborhood as buyers and renters alike realized they could no longer afford the places they wanted. Buyers priced out of Santa Monica tried Venice. Those who gave up on the Westside headed east to Los Feliz. As the 20th century drew to a close, the weather pattern kept driving east, making its way into Silver Lake � where it branched off in multiple directions.

The economic weather pattern pushed its way north and northeast, into middle-class neighborhoods like Atwater Village and Eagle Rock. It headed south and southeast into MacArthur Park, Pico-Union and even South Los Angeles. Perhaps most significantly, it slammed headlong into a neighborhood long known for its gang violence, pockets of poverty and liberal activism, Echo Park....The region even has gentrification microclimates � Hollywood, Pasadena, downtown Los Angeles � where a surge in condo construction and new-home buying has been egged on by aggressive government intervention.

Ultimately, Zahniser writes, "the most maddening thing about gentrification [is] its very duality, the way in which it simultaneously delivers pleasure and pain, miraculous benefits and terrible consequences."

As middle-income residents move in, neighborhoods that once heard low-flying helicopters and automatic-weapons fire have found a greater measure of peace. Working-class families who scraped together the money to buy homes in the mid-1990s have happily cashed out, making hundreds of thousands of dollars en route to a five-bedroom home in Fontana, Las Vegas or Phoenix. Those who stay behind, however, frequently find themselves in a neighborhood they don�t recognize. And those who rent in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood discover that they gained physical security while losing economic security, with rents rising steadily and the inventory of reasonably priced homes shrinking.

Thoughts on the story or on gentrification? Email them with your real name and the most salient will be posted here at LA Observed.

Through The Onion's eyes: They satirize the topic under the headline, "Sometimes I Feel Like I'm The Only One Trying To Gentrify This Neighborhood."

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