The Gentrification of Highland Park

By Gloria Campos, Highland Park resident

I grew up in Highland Park. I migrated to HLP in 1996 with my family to live with my aunt who had been living in these streets since the 80’s. I don’t say this to lay claim to this neighborhood, but rather to express why I care so much about this community, the people in it, and why the changing face of HLP must be inclusive of the community that makes up HLP. Communities change on a daily basis and there’s always a reason for these changes. White flight occurred during the 50’s and 60’s when people of color were forced into concentrated urban neighborhoods due to outwardly racist laws, redlining practices, and housing discrimination. When they left, the financial capital which white people accumulated with government subsidies and social services that allowed whites to build assets over time went with them. People of color were systemically barred from these same benefits; these communities were concentrated into urban areas and barred from moving into the suburbs. In the late 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s LA freeways cut through many of these low income communities and displaced people of color once again. The process of displacement is nothing new. It happened in 1951-1961 with the widely known physical removal of Mexican-Americans in Chavez Ravine for the creation of the Dodger’s stadium and it continues today through the many redevelopment projects occurring throughout LA. Unfortunately the trauma remains, the violence continues- and above all people continue to survive.

It’s difficult to express the feelings that come with the reality of gentrification happening in my own neighborhood. The place where I once felt at home suddenly turns into pockets of glaring eyes, an influx of white people, hipsters, and overpriced coffee shops with new management who somehow make it a priority to become experts at making folks who have lived in this community feel unwelcome in their own neighborhood. I got anger rooted deep inside, sadness, and a resilient spirit with a defensive kind of love built over years of consistent attacks on my community all mixed into one little body.

I hear a lot of people talk about gentrification as a series of “unavoidable” changes. There are people who say these are improvements to what is often characterized as poor and violent living conditions for the poor people in these neighborhoods- in this case those who reside in Highland Park. However, gentrification is not unavoidable. It happens with a strategic purpose. It’s ultimately economic development, capitalism doing what capitalism does best, corporations and the almighty dollar put above the value of community spaces and people. It’s a very real economic and racialized force of violence inflicted on low income people of color. It is a force that pushes people out of their homes, their neighborhoods, and destroys communities. It is displacement and the breaking up of communities.

In different areas of LA gentrification comes with more police presence, “cleaning our dirty streets” of people who are a part of this community, gang injunctions, getting rid of the homeless as if they have no human worth, a wave of new faces with purchasing power, investment in new stores that cater to people with a higher purchasing power rather than those who make up the surrounding community. These processes are planned and carried out. The expected profits are known to the developers. The financial incentives are geared toward the benefit of corporations and the people with the financial capital to afford higher rental prices. What this means for low income, migrant, black and brown communities is that they are essentially told they are disposable and kicked out of their homes, some are put through abusive living conditions as a means of getting them to move out before whole buildings are remodeled for a different consumer and rent prices are spiked up.

Highland Park needs improvements, as do many other spaces in LA. Highland Park as a neighborhood- as a community- also holds a lot of worth. I learned how to ride my bike at the park on Figueroa and I learned how to roller skate there. I went to school here; I learned English and some Tagalog + Mexican/ Mex-Am slang here. I fell in love with the Arroyo Seco Library on one of my first field trips (get it free stuff that makes reading fun), my immigrant family found community in St. Ignatius church along with many other immigrant families with many different backgrounds. We’d sell a bag full of churros on Sundays for a dollar at our church (none of that 4 bucks for one churro nonsense) and get raspados by the park when we could. We buy our food at all the local markets and every now and then go see a movie at what used to be (I don’t even know now) a rundown theatre with a lot of history that many of us know nothing about for 3 bucks. This community saw me grow up. Two years ago I even got to see a Deferred Action Drive organized by immigrant youth from Highland Park, in Highland Park, for the Highland Park community. We’ve seen people come into this world and leave this world too soon here. For better or worse, it’s been our home. Yes, we need to invest more in our youth, in our social services, and in making our community a better community. Gentrification as a means of displacing the very people who make up Highland Park to create a space for others to move in because they hold more financial capital does not improve our existing communities. It destroys them.

The process of gentrification ends with long-time residents forced elsewhere. The services which originally catered to the community, spaces with accessible and affordable community services, and cultural services are also replaced with spaces that cater to new residents with more financial wealth and corporate profit (eg. the new Starbucks which just opened on Figueroa St. and Café de Leche on York). Gentrification serves the drive of capitalism and forces the migration of existing communities who are further marginalized and left with even fewer resources.

What can I do?

I can do plenty. I am not powerless. Learn about the hxstory of our communities. Learn about the impacts of gentrification and the root causes of it. I can figure out why the vecina’s (neighbor’s) rent is rising and why she’s looking for a new place and is unable to find anything in a place she’s lived her entire life. I can read up on our hxstory because it’s all relevant and none of us (whether you are person of color or white) learn what we need to know about our hxstories in school. I can figure out who’s leading these efforts in our community. What our rights are, what the rights of our folks are. I can go to a city meeting and get involved. Let’s build bridges. Join a group. Work gets in the way, life gets in the way- I can give myself an hour outta the week, look up local work being done around my area and go to a meeting and check it out. I can make sure your family and my family is not getting displaced. I can come up with my own creative ideas.

We need to invest in ourselves; go to local stores owned by folks who have invested their lives into this community. Don’t go to the Starbucks that just opened up! It’s our right to understand and be a part of the discussions and changes surrounding our communities. This includes the shop owner, the high school student, the drop-out, the person without a home, las madres (from church and our own mothers), and every person who has a stake in our neighbor/hood.

13 thoughts on “The Gentrification of Highland Park

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write this an taking the time to appreciate the efforts of our defers action workshop back in 2012. I helped organize that that year and that summer and I was displaced that year that very summer. I am still very broken about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you want you should def. consider submitting something to the blog! If nothing else, it’s a good way to reflect on all that’s happening and and writing is always a form of healing. And thank you for helping to organize that event, it was beautiful ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your angst and fear over the influx of “white people” is like from the Minuteman web page.
    Just replace “white people” with “Mexicans” and you sound exactly the same.
    The influx of displacing long time residents, destroying our way of life.
    While I’ll agree with you that affordable housing is a problem, a race war is not a solution.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, but Marino, I think it’s pretty clear that this has little to do with race and a lot to do with economic power. For a variety of reasons, some of which the author points out, race and economic power align. I empathize strongly with Ms. Campos’ distress at seeing her community disrupted and displaced. I’m not so sure she fully understands the forces at work or has any real solutions. But I don’t see any reason to accuse her of making unwarranted racial attacks.

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  3. i love this! I too learned how to ride my bike in HLP. We lived on Monte Vista and 57, so I always rode down to St Ignatious (where I went to school for 5/6 grade). I still have scars from my first major bike accident that happened when I was riding down the driveway nearest the monsignors office, with someone on the handle bars. Thank you for writing this!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Cafe de Leche is owned by long time residents of the HLP community who are truly devoted to the neighborhood and ALL of its residents. I understand the coffee prices are more expensive than some places for myself included but lumping them in with a corporation such as Starbucks is frankly ridiculous. Perhaps you can take some time to meet the owners Matt & Anya and hear them talk about the neighborhood and their love for NELA before stating they aren’t committed accessible and affordable spaces for the neighborhood. They helped to install the first bike rack on York and the Parklet which are useful for ALL residents, certainly not just affluent ones.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Please identify the cultural resources that have been lost in Highland Park over the past ten years. If you look at the census data Highland Park has historically been over 75% Latino. The gentrification you are criticizing is actually making Highland Park more diverse, cultural resources are actually increasing. From this point of view you are lamenting the loss of homogeneity, a position that in todays environment would be considered racist by many people. Socio-economic structures that are too brittle to absorb change will break. I encourage you to think about a integrated and race blind future where culture is not defined by ethnicity, but by a collective vision for what our community can be: engaging public spaces, a sustainable environment, and safe streets.

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  6. Please consider gaining a grasp on the concept of privilege & power. A colorblind perspective works to negate the conversation of race, further entrenching individual & structural racism. People may be part of a larger human race, but social experience does not always reflect this. Arguments in favor of colorblindness enables whites (traditionally those who are privileged) to ignore history & continue the legacy of dictating what race and racism is.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Heyo, just to reply to some of those comments above. When I mention “white people” I’m being honest about the faces that these new development practices are bringing in. I’m not going to go into the racialized policies and overall racial segregation which gentrification enhances you can research/google the history and statistics on how harmful gentrification is to communities of color (this is the main reason I even mention “white people”). Me speaking on the realities of the effects of these racialized policies is just calling it out like it is. I also have a problem with this reality- hey maybe we should fight racism together. The reality of the situation is that when you see white people coming into a neighborhood that was once largely folks of color, you begin to see a change in investments, and the forces that drive new folks into a neighborhood also purposefully drive certain people out. And also, I’d just like to point out that from the whole article, some folks (of any skin color) will jump to the defense of white people (whom are not the focus of this article) rather than the folks who are literally being removed from their homes and communities.

    And to the other point(s) I’m aware of Cafe de leche’s ownership background, I’ve seen it in articles talking about gentrification and the “new face” of NELA. I’m sure they’re very nice people. However simply speaking on personal experience, Cafe de Leche represents the changing face of HLP for the worse for me- why? because it’s a changing face that doesn’t include many folks who live in hlp. I went to cafe de leche for the first time when I was younger, years ago with my older sister. I was harrassed by the barrista and glared at as I walked into the Cafe. I was in HS back then. After my older sister returned to the cafe (because I honestly felt like crap and was very angry for the way the barrista had acted towards us) and asked why the barrista had been so rude- we were told by a very frightened barrista that the manager had told the barrista to watch out for folks taking advantage of the space- I’m not sure what she meant by telling me that or why she seemed scared but I assume the barrista thought we were somewhat of a “threat” to the space. And to be honest -since then I have never seen so many white people in HLP all just congregated at Cafe de Leche and all these new spots opening up on the same block on york- this is just my truth folks.

    What I think is most important here is who’s being displaced as new folks are coming in. I’m all for community spaces, but when a new shop opens up with higher prices, when rent goes up, when long time stores which catered to the community already there close down and folks who live in the neighborhood are no longer able to afford to buy things in their own neighborhood let alone afford to live in their home- there is a problem.

    If we’re talking about a collective vision here, I encourage all the folks who commented above, and folks who are choosing to move into the neighborhood, as well as those who’ve created roots here to attend the events going on discussing the impacts of gentrification. If we’re talking about a collective vision (which I’m all about) we gotta think about all the folks who make up the community- which means making an active effort to listen to the voices of those who are being displaced.

    — The first comment was already someone sharing that they’ve been displaced. And these stories are going to continue, who’s being made disposable here?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Gentrification is a class issue. It just happens that white people are generally upper class privileged etc. and when they move in they take over because they have the networks and resources to do it. It would be better to strip race from this and attribute it to issues of class. Of course Im saying that as a white person, born and raised in LA, but white none the less. So take it with a grain of salt I guess.

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    • Hey Don,

      Thanks for acknowledging your white privilege. That’s (obviously) something that some of the folks who commented before you failed to do.

      I just wanted to clarify that class + race are inextricably linked. It doesn’t “just happen” that white people have more money. This is a systemic process. If you look who the poorest are in this country, it is usually people of color. We are the ones who are underresourced, because the government+ other institutions fail to provide us with the resources to thrive while simultaneously exploiting our labor. These oppressions are interlinked. They do not exist in isolation.

      As for the linking of class + race, several writers/scholars/activists of color have done work on the connection between class and race. Here are a few readings that explore that:

      Kimberle Crenshaw- Intersectionality
      Angela Davis, women, race and class
      Combahee River Collective Statement
      Anibal Quijano- The Colonialitybof Power.

      I would also be glad to suggest more readings on power + privilege, if you’d like.

      -My name is Caro. I am one of the organizers of this blog.

      Best,
      Caro
      Quetzalvera@gmail.com

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  9. I think many of the commentors here are very correct to point out the long history of white supremacy and how that has led us to the general economic status quo where whites can use their generally higher economic power to move into lower income neighborhoods. However, trying to view gentrification through a strictly racial lens won’t get you anywhere useful. As other have pointed out, at root this is about economic power and it’s a lot more complex than “rich white” versus “poor brown”.

    Many of the speculators buying up properties in HLP are Chinese backed by both domestic and foreign money looking for investments with a high return. Many of the sellers are long time hispanic residents that are cashing in on the massive increase in the value of the property they bought in HLP. Beyond the local area, some of the big factors driving gentrification throughout this city and others are a lack of low and mid priced housing due to overly strict development rules, the large volumes of investor cash from around the world looking for high return investments, and the after effects of the economic crash. There are local, regional, national, and international forces at work and while there are always winners and losers in any change, it’s not always clear that they break down neatly into poor/rich, brown/white, or any other simple formula.

    As to solutions…well, it’s tough. LA does have pretty strong tenants rights and knowing and fighting for those is probably any neighborhood’s first line of defense against long time residents being displaced. Longer term, I don’t know that you can, or should, really try to stop this process entirely though.

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