Posts tagged gentrification

Photo: Lincoln Heights Branch Library (CC BY-SA 3.0)

It was after reading the recent LA Times piece, A Dream Displaced Part 2 – As Gentrification closes in, immigrants in Lincoln Heights find their American dream slipping away in the Los Angeles, I recognized feeling a profound sense of sorrow for the residents that are being essentially priced out of their homes. It was shocking to learn 73% of residents are renters in Lincoln Heights, partially explaining the sense of powerlessness this population must be experiencing under the tide of socio-economic change gentrification brings with it.

The sorrow I harbor for Lincoln Height residents is rooted in my own family’s history. My immigrant parents first moved into the neighborhood of Lincoln Heights due to its close proximity to the Chinatown community and the affordable rent. They found an upstairs unit in a back house on Workman Street, located right across from the beautifully historic Lincoln Heights Branch Library on one corner and a Thrifty’s drugstore on the other. I also remember there was a video store, Star Video, directly across from Thrifty’s mixed in with a number of small businesses. The neighborhood was a melting pot of cultures, the neighborhood’s diverse population reflected through the various local businesses that lined the main commercial district across Broadway.

Lincoln Heights’ Walk Score still rates extremely high, reported as a “walker’s paradise”. Graphic:

Historically, Lincoln Heights was Los Angeles’s first suburb and  home to a succession of immigrants representing our city’s history of diversity. The English, Irish, French, Chinese, Mexican, and the Italian all claimed Lincoln Heights as their home at one time or another, each successive wave of immigrants leaving their imprint, with many still writing their history.

As I reminisce about my childhood, memories come flooding back about the neighborhood’s past: picking out a movie with my dad at the video store, walking to the baseball card store after school, or even buying pet food on Broadway for my pet turtle. My memories remind me of a very walkable neighborhood with services available for residents all within a few minutes distance. The walkability of Lincoln Heights almost made it feel like I lived within a bubble separate from the rest of car-centric Los Angeles. And even though I belonged to the demographic labeled a minority, it never felt that way in Lincoln Heights…it was just home to me.

Our family was eventually forced out of our apartment by our landlord. We were unable to find affordable rent in the neighborhood, so we ended up moving further east to El Sereno when I was in 8th grade. Now as an adult looking back, I realize there were a lot of up and downs living in Lincoln Heights. It must have been different than what my parents imagined their life would be working towards the American Dream. But back then as a child, Lincoln Heights felt perfect.

When my parents moved to California, they settled down just east of Chinatown in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Lincoln Heights. At that time, my parents decided to settle there due to it’s close proximity to Chinatown and the relatively affordable rent. I spent a good part of my childhood exploring the neighborhood, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to truly appreciate the walkability Chinatown offers.

What makes Chinatown so walking friendly?

I believe it’s partially attributed to the Chinese culture, but also because of the dense residential layouts, short blocks, human scaled storefronts, and most importantly, the small businesses that serve the community. There’s a wide variety of shops ranging from family owned supermarkets, herb shops, seafood, eateries, bakeries, clothiers, and many more serving the tight knit community. Growing up, my parents did all of their shopping and errands within a few square miles. We purchased our birthday cakes at Queen Bakery and Phoenix Bakery, brought our produce at Ai Hoa Supermarket, and picked up fresh chicken from the local poultry shop.

But the small businesses environment in Chinatown is changing. There is now a mixture of new and old businesses that co-exist together, each serving different demographics, both culturally and generationally. The younger generation has moved away from Chinatown, leaving an increasingly elderly immigrant population that relies heavily upon the shops and services for their daily needs.