Lupita Barajas sits in front of her restaurant, Yeya’s (across the street from Mariachi Plaza), with her grandson, Julian. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA
CicLAvia! Bicycles! Hipster Invaders! Gentrification!
Made you look!
Probably provoked some strong emotions, too, given the way recent headlines (see here, here, here) in asking whether activities assumed to be the purview of “hipsters” could be compatible with lower-income communities, have inadvertently re-ified the “us vs. them” framing that guides too much of the conversation on gentrification.*
Very little productive dialogue tends to come of that approach, regardless of how well-intended the question is. For one, it is incredibly effective at enticing all the angry, underwear-clad racists, classists, and all-around terrible people with Internet access out of their caves. But even among those who seek a more elevated debate, that framing almost guarantees that the highly complex issues surrounding community transformations will devolve into unpleasant wranglings over who has the right to make claims on a place based on creative interpretations of history and sweeping generalizations about “culture.”
Behold, the most tone-deaf gentri-flyer in the history of man. (Photo source unknown)
That is not to say that bike lanes, bicyclists, CicLAvia, or even “hipsters” aren’t touchstones in gentrification debates. The gentri-flyer heard ’round the world (at right) made clear that they certainly are.
But, as I tried to illustrate in the stories penned on the storm the flyer generated (here, here), it’s not those things, per se, that provoke such a strong reaction. It’s the processes and power structures they represent.
In other words, people are often looking at current efforts to engage their communities in the context of the long history of discrimination, deliberate disinvestment, displacement, and exclusion from the planning processes those communities have endured and asking where they fit.
From that perspective, it becomes easier to see how residents with a lengthy list of unaddressed infrastructure and other needs might wonder exactly who lower-priority concerns like bike lanes (or an event like CicLAvia, staged in their community by non-residents) were intended to benefit. Particularly since investment often seems to not be directed at a marginalized area until after turnover is already underway and developers appear prepared to “ride the wave of increased gentrification”** by snapping up homes, apartment buildings, and retail sites.
Students from around the area speak about how memories, family, relationships, and struggle define what home on the East Side means to them at a recent Activarte: Detouring Displacement workshop led by artist Omar Ramirez. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA
Of course, none of this means that people don’t want to see investments, improvements, events, or even “outsiders” in their communities. On the contrary — a number of the small business owners I’ve spoken with feel that more investment in the area and greater exposure to a wider customer base are necessary for them to survive and flourish.
They would just prefer that when that happens, investments will be directed at existing businesses and local entrepreneurs so they can grow and adapt to a changing landscape, the community will be treated as a partner in planning, development will be respectful of the character, history, and culture of the area, improvements will address the needs and aspirations of the long-time residents — especially those on the margins, and the existing residents’ ability to remain in their homes will be safeguarded so they can reap the benefits of any growth or change that results from that process.
Activarte participants discuss what “home” means to them and prepare to make signs to communicate their ideas. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA
So, some of the community’s stakeholders are hoping to help visitors and city officials to see the value of that approach by inviting participants to explore the length of 1st St. during this weekend’s CicLAvia, get acquainted with the small businesses, and learn about how culture, history, food, and family play into their vision for the future of their community.
They’re going to make it super-easy for everyone to do so, too.
Most of the businesses along 1st are family-run. Yeya’s has been there four years, although owner Lupita Barajas (holding the baby) worked in restaurants along the street for 15 years prior to opening her own. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA
Thanks to the work of Aldo Medina of the East L.A. Community Corporation, who is working to organize the businesses and offer them technical assistance, Chris Pina who nurtures the growth of small businesses via Business Source, and Juan Romero, the owner of cafe Primera Taza, 1st st. will be hosting the equivalent of one very long block party. There will be food, music, art, live painting, food, outdoor tables and chairs, awesome people, and food.
Did I mention food? Read more…