Gentrification - What it is and how we can fight it
[Note from MN:The particulars
in the beginning of the following 2005 article about the face and pace of gentrification and
displacement in Los Angeles
at that time are now a litany of lost causes. However, the struggle continues today.
perspective on gentrification as a process of re-colonization and social
engineering carried out under a consciously white supremacist and
anti-democratic strategy is even more valid today and bears re-reading and
applying to the new and on-going struggles against displacement in Boyle
Heights, the Crenshaw district and throughout the LA Basin.
quarter-million Black people have been dispersed from LA or driven into
homelessness under these policies. Already the least-affordable city in the
country in terms of the relationship between the average household income and
the average cost for housing (purchase or rental), Los Angeles is experiencing
another wave of intense commercial development, continuing to use new rail
lines as anchors for displacement and construction of high-end residential and
The bid for
another Olympics in Los Angeles promises to heighten this trend still further,
as well as the security-surveillance state apparatus that protects it by
criminalizing poverty, dissent and resistance, particularly in communities of
Gentrification - What it is and how we can fight it!
by Michael Novick, ARA-LA/PART
(From Turning The Tide, Volume 18 #2, May-June 2005)
In Echo Park,
rents are going through the roof, and the collectively-run bookstore 33-1/3
Books is in a struggle to keep its space.
In Venice, the city has
passed new ordinances clamping down on artistic, cultural and political
expression along the Boardwalk, replacing the traditional “free speech
zone” with a lottery-system that commercializes the area. At the same
time, the largest apartment-owner in the U.S.,
AIMCO, has bought the historic Lincoln
Place apartments in Venice and has ordered mass evictions.
In South LA, the
LA Times has been carrying out a year-long attack on the King-Drew
trying to get the County
Board of Supervisors to
shut down the hospital built in the wake of the 1965 Watts Rebellion. The
facility’s trauma care unit, and the affiliated Charles Drew
are under particular attack, despite the unique services they provide the
East LA, mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa and county supervisor Gloria
Molina are pitching the construction of a “medical research park,”
anchored by County-USC
Hospital and paid for
with California Stem Cell Research initiative money.
Councils around Chinatown are struggling over
the development of the rail yards in their vicinity. Real estate developers
seek power over the LA school board, trying to use school construction to leverage
commercial and residential property developments. In Little Tokyo, residents
are fighting the construction of a new jail and police headquarters.
In South Central,
the local farmers on a plot of land on 41st and Alameda have won a court injunction against a
city effort to turn their land over to private developers.
What links these
diverse and geographically separate struggles together? They are all
reflections of the latest round of “gentrification” in L.A.,
economically-motivated class and colonial warfare over the control of land and
the communities on it.
King-Drew’s vital service to an impoverished community lies its location at the
center of a stretch of prime real estate. Beyond the South Central Farmers
provision of healthy, fresh and culturally appropriate fruit and vegetables is
the “more profitable” use that can be made of such “wasted”
Beyond the plans of one Echo Park landlord to make a bigger buck from the
storefronts lies the effort to “gentrify” the area between Downtown
“gentrification” mean? The “gentry” were the rich,
land-owning class in aristocratic countries in Europe.
Who are their modern counterparts? In city after city across the U.S.
for several decades, working class neighborhoods and communities of color have
been targeted for demolition and reconstruction as havens or enclaves for the
The pattern is
familiar. Property values and rents start to rise. Property taxes go up. Homes
and stores become too expensive for the people who have been living in them,
and the banks, landlords and tax collectors start forcing poor people of color
out to cheaper, outlying areas, often older and deteriorating white working
class suburbs. In place of the poor, the Black and immigrant working families,
come “urban pioneers” - sometimes artists, young singles without
kids, sometimes gay men or lesbians. As they establish a “hip” white
beachhead, upscale shops and trendy night-spots begin to appear. In their wake
come the “yuppies,” young, upwardly mobile professionals, augmented
by older, established families, or retirees looking for a sophisticated
“Community Redevelopment Agency” over the years has played a role in
planning this so-called “urban renewal” – which people on the East
Coast used to refer to as “Negro removal” – to establish beachheads
of commercial property and office buildings to anchor a redefinition of
formerly poor neighborhoods.
economic pressure doesn’t work, more forceful tactics are often used. But it is
important to remember that even “everyday economics” like rent and
taxes are based on the gun of state power and colonial control. If you don’t
pay your rent, bills or taxes, the enforcers come – the police, sheriffs or
marshals – to collect or to evict you. In one notorious case here in LA in the
1980s, a Black woman named Eulia Love was killed by the LAPD when she didn’t
pay a utility bill!
In San Francisco’s Mission District 30 years ago, arson fires
were combined with subway construction and factory closures to transform the
city’s primary “port of entry” for immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America into a neighborhood
of condominium apartments for commuters to Silicon Valley
to the south. At the same time, the elderly Filipino and Chinese residents of
the International Hotel were forcibly evicted in an effort to convert the
wharves and Chinatown area into a close-in
bedroom community for the financial district and the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange.
Los Angeles is no stranger to this process of
gentrification, which is really a process of colonization and re-colonization.
The Black community in Venice, CA
- the only Black and working class beach town on the California coast - has been targeted for
police abuse. The FACE program - federally-assisted code enforcement - came in,
by means of which city zoning enforcement is used to try to drive long-standing
homeowners out by citing them for multiple violations of municipal codes. This
manifestation of the “broken windows” school of aggressive policing
is designed to criminalize poverty even among homeowners. It is paralleled by
police harassment of the homeless in the area, through ordinances that make
most activity illegal for people without dwellings.
For example, it
is now a crime to smoke at the beach or boardwalk in Venice. The police are out weekly enforcing
the new commercialized “free speech zone” along the boardwalk. The Venice situation
illustrates clearly the connection between armed state power and the economic
interests they serve. In cities, the police operate as an army of occupation in
poor and oppressed communities of color, and as internal border guards for more
privileged areas. In the “contested” areas of gentrification, the
cops and the courts are a key element, along with the banks and the “urban
pioneer” settler colonists, in carrying out a “re-conquest.”
Two notable past
examples of this process in L.A. were the construction of Dodger Stadium in
Chavez Ravine, which displaced a thriving Mexicano community; and before that,
the forced removal of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the
expropriation of their property (not only in LA but along the entire Pacific
But the latest
crescendo reflects a specific political use of gentrification as part of a
counter-insurgency strategy by the ruling elite. This is based on a theory
called “spatial de-concentration,” put forward in the 1970s by a
major theoretician of the Trilateral Commission, Samuel Huntington. The
Trilateral Commission is a private association of representative of the
financiers and industrialists of the U.S.,
Western Europe and Japan,
and their political mouthpieces. Most of the top leaders of the US
government beginning at least with the Carter Administration, have been members
of the Trilateral Commission.
and two other “scholars” in a book called “The Crisis of
Democracy.” Huntington was one of the
architects of the US
assassination program in Vietnam,
Operation Phoenix, which relied on “strategic hamlets” to contain the
Vietnamese people. In the book, he theorizes that the 60s insurgencies and
demands of the Black and Mexicano/Puerto Rican/ Latino “underclass,”
who had previously been excluded from political discourse, had created a
“crisis of democracy.”
The crisis was
TOO MUCH democracy, according to Huntington!
Poor people of color placed demands on the system that it could not accommodate
or satisfy. (Interestingly, Huntington has more
recently become a theoretician of Bush’s “endless war on terror,”
sees as a vitally necessary “Clash of Civilizations” between
Europeans and Afro-Asian Muslims who are incapable of 'absorbing’ western-style democracy.)
In particular, Huntington identified a threat to the stability of the US political
and economic system. In European and Latin American or African cities, the rich
commanded the center of the cities and the poor lived in the outskirts, in
shantytowns and favelas. US
cities, on the other hand, had massive poor and working class communities,
mostly of color, right in the urban core or “inner city,” surrounding
the downtown office buildings and high rises. The wealthy lived in the
outskirts, in suburbs. The urban rebellions of the 60s, beginning here in
Watts, taught Huntington
that this was extremely dangerous to the rulers. He proposed what he called
“spatial de-concentration,” breaking up and dispersing poor, Black,
Mexicano/indigenous working class communities and replacing them with more
reliable white professionals, managers and business people.
This strategy was
applied in New York, Boston,
and elsewhere. We saw it operate more recently here in Los
Angeles through the crack-cocaine epidemic, which destabilized,
devalued and broke up the Black community of south Los Angeles. This caused a huge churning of
the real estate market and eventual huge profits for those who bought up Black
homes cheap as neighborhoods became unlivable.
Now the process
is underway again, driven both by the same political motivation to break up
communities of resistance and the economic motive of turning a handsome profit
by driving working families and small business people and cooperative community
enterprises out. How can we resist these massive economic forces and the
military forces that back them up?
We have to deepen our ties to each others’
struggles, deepen our understanding of the enemy we face, and deepen our
thinking about how to organize and resist. We need to recognize that this is a
manifestation of an on-going process of colonization that began with Columbus and continued
through the Anglo-American “Manifest Destiny” that coveted the
Mexican/indigenous lands to the Pacific, up to today.
We can begin to
unite our forces across the city - Blacks and Mexicanos in South LA, Blacks,
homeless, renters and artists in Venice or
downtown, Mexicanos and Central Americans in Pico-Union and Boyle Heights,
Asians in Chinatown and Little Tokyo. Then we
will begin to see the power of the people manifest itself through cooperative
economic activity, sharing of resources, political organizing, boycotts and
other means. We will begin to understand and to demonstrate that all the wealth
of this system that confronts us is stolen from the people and from the land,
and that all the power that towers over us and is used to grind us down
actually comes FROM the people. It is ours to regain, and to use to protect our
communities and the land, water and air that sustain life.
To discuss these
issues with the author, email email@example.com, write Michael at
ARA-LA, PO Box 1055, Culver City CA 90232, or call 323-636-7388.