KCRW's New Podcast Dives Deep into L.A.'s Gentrification Debates


By Natalie Figueroa

It begins with a chorus of voices uttering phrases you might hear anywhere in the city these days: “People in this city are starved for housing.” “We don’t need like three, four coffee shops on one street.” “I love this city...I don’t want to be moved along just because I’m a different class of person.”

KCRW’s new podcast, created in partnership with WNYC Studios, takes an in-depth look at one of the most uncomfortable and polarizing topics for L.A. residents, rich and poor alike: when a neighborhood (or a whole city) starts to change, who wins out? Who loses? And what should the city do about it?

“If every episode is like a small stream, then the big river [of the podcast] is, what kind of a city does L.A. want to be moving forward?” Saul Gonzalez, the host of the podcast and a reporter at KCRW, told LAist. “Do we want backyards and single family homes and freeways, or do we want this new city that’s emerging, which is denser and higher and gives us other options beyond our cars?”

There Goes the Neighborhood: Los Angeles is a continuation of WNYC Studios’ original There Goes the Neighborhood, which examined gentrification in Brooklyn. The series will be eight episodes long—the first two episodes are already available on kcrw.com and Apple Podcasts. The remaining six episodes will be released each week over the next six weeks, and explore tensions arising in various parts of the city. There are episodes dedicated to new development in Hollywood, to a white landlord trying to evict his immigrant tenants in Rampart Village and to the experiences of black residents being priced out of Inglewood.

The series will make an effort to look at the issue from every side, says Gonzalez.

“We’re trying to show all the shades of gray. When that hipster coffee house opens up down the street, it’s not a black and white issue,” says Gonzalez. “There are people who can be for and against [these changes] at the same time.”

An animation showing the changing racial makeup of L.A. County, from 1970 to 2010.
kcrw_race.gif
Data from the Longitudinal Tract Database created by John R. Logan, Zengwang Xu, and Brian Stults. Maps created by Michael Bader.

The podcast comes in the midst of a swelling housing affordability crisis for Los Angeles. Even as development increases, there is a desperate shortage of housing for middle- and low-income Angelenos: according to the nonprofit California Housing Partnership Corporation, L.A. County needs an extra 550,000 affordable units to house low-income families here. Rents in the city are up, evictions are increasing, and the homelessness crisis is at an apex. Pitched battles over which neighborhoods belong to whom are getting louder and more urgent for people who stand to be displaced, particularly in the Eastside community of Boyle Heights.

The urgency of the debate has not escaped Gonzalez’s attention as he’s reported for the series, he says. Arguments about whether more housing should be built, about solutions to the affordability crisis, and about the character of neighborhoods take on a religious importance to residents, especially long-time residents, he says.

“The intensity of people’s connections to their little patch of L.A., just how strongly they feel about it—that was surprising to me,” he says.

Find the latest episodes of "There Goes the Neighborhood" here.

Related: This New Short Doc Examines The Intersection Of Art, Gentrification, And History In Boyle Heights