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Ask A Native Angeleno: What Can I Do About Gentrifying Hipsters Ruining My Neighborhood?

Silver Lake (Photo by via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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This week's question comes from an Angeleno who isn't happy about rising rents in her hip hood. If you have your own burning question for a Native Angeleno, you can e-mail us using the subject line "Ask A Native Angeleno." It's fine if you want to be anonymous, just let us know which neighborhood you live in.

Dear Native Angeleno,

I was wondering what you think should be done about neighborhoods like mine where hipsters are moving in, gentrifying everything and forcing me to pay more in rent.

Surly in Silver Lake

Dear Surly in Silver Lake,

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The word gentrification comes from ‘gentry,’ which itself comes from an old French word, ‘genterise,’ meaning “of gentle birth." I like to think that all Angelenos are from gentle births.

And in a way, all Angelenos are gentrifiers.

Los Angeles was founded in 1781 by 44 guys (22 adults and 22 children who were encouraged to move her by Spain) that ended up being called the pobladores—the townspeople. Of the 22 adults, there were Spanish, Mexicans (or rather, they were from 'New Spain'—Mexico hadn’t even been founded yet!), blacks, American Indians, and different combinations of such. Even these 44 could be seen as early gentrifiers—Native Americans were of course already living in Southern California.

Los Angeles was a nothing of a town, a tiny pueblo on a crappy river, light years away from any kind of useful port, full of cow shit and homicide. That only changed when people started moving here, wave after wave of Midwesterners, Mexicans, and immigrants from every corner of the earth.

Ever since, L.A. has been a city constantly in flux. In many ways, our gentrification is less visually striking than in other cities. Gentrification can be a real block by block thing—check out downtown, which is brimming with "loft" style apartment buildings and new restaurants and tiny coffee shops, and then right in the middle there’s Broadway, which gentrification has passed over like the angel of death on Passover. I was there a few weeks ago and there was a homeless guy blasting music from a boom box like it was 1987.

In Manhattan, it’s become next to impossible for a normal person with a normal income to afford an apartment. But it’s unlikely to come to that in Los Angeles, mostly because (I know I mention this every week) it’s really really fucking big, and it’s not nearly as dense as it could be.

In the long run, everything changes. Jews move to Boyle Heights and then over to Fairfax. Latinos move to South L.A. Hipsters move to Silver Lake. Tech millionaires move to Venice. The number one ethnic group moving to California right now is actually Asians, so there’s that as well. To everything, turn turn turn.

To be sure, any sort of change has winners and losers. When an area like Silver Lake gentrifies—i.e., when cute little shops start popping up that sell comic books and overpriced coffee, when houses start getting flipped, when carpets are torn out to make way for hardwood floors, when rents and home prices go up—there are winners and losers. Long-time homeowners (with enough income to afford the new higher prices) and landlords win. Most renters lose—both because their rents go up (though by law they can only go up so much in a given year) and because that little café or taco shop or whatever that sold cheap things that they were used to is forced out by a gelato or sneaker shop. Their friends move away. The neighborhood feels unfamiliar. Parking becomes impossible.

And yet to say that gentrification is just another instance of the upper classes trampling upon the lower classes isn’t quite right. When a neighborhood improves—when its home prices go up, when it gets cleaner and safer, when more businesses open up—lots of people benefit, and not just hipsters. There are more jobs—especially more jobs for young people. The schools improve (usually), or at least a bunch of new charter schools open up. Old businesses often thrive. And the economic boost can positively impact nearby neighborhoods. A rising tide and all that.

And what about the parking? Well, go figure—when you take away parking spots, more people walk. And it starts to feel like an actual bona fide neighborhood.

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When people complain about gentrification, what they’re often saying is, “bring things back to the way they were when I first moved here.” There’s something a bit selfish about that, isn’t there?

Hillel Aron is a Native Angeleno. Follow him on the twitter at @hillelaron.

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