[Los Angeles, CA] On September 13th KCET in partnership with The California Endowment hosted the premiere screening of CITY RISING. The theme of the documentary is gentrification. An overflow crowd of nearly 700 was on hand to see the “Director’s Cut” which was 90 minutes. Coincidently, on the same evening KCET showed the regular 60-minute screening on their channel.
If you’re black, get back!
If you’re brown, stick around!
If you’re white, it’s all right!
from an anonymous social scientist
Gentrification, a working understanding
Not every white person is rich and not every black person or those of color is poor! One legacy of the history of the United States is the construct of racism or using race as a controlling factor. On basic quality of life issues; from economic or the ability to earn money, to health, to housing and other areas whites were granted privilege over other groups. Even today many attempt to dismiss this very basic fact of not understanding or accepting the issue in a historical context.
“He who gets behind in a race must forever stay behind or run faster than the man ahead of him, that is our dilemma” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. January 1961
That privilege buffered by legal discrimination, including specific land covenants of who could buy land or live in certain communities which set in motion the premise of defining the American Dream as being able to afford a home. Unfortunately, the dream dismissed the reality of certain groups being blocked based on race.
In addition to basic shelter, the more important benefit of home ownership is wealth accumulation or a legitimate asset which has generational benefits. The lack of it, is one reason for the marginalization.
Inner cities, the target of gentrification
Following the great depression and leading up to the industrial revolution, cities throughout the U.S. witnessed an economic boon. Labor was the fuel that fed the boon and many ethnic groups relocated and the result was financial uplift. As the majority group or whites were enjoying the lions-share of the boon, they created the strategy in developing suburbs which allowed them to flee the urban core. They were able to transfer their properties (through sale or renting) to the minority groups who remained. Thus, the term “white flight” was coined. More important and critical to the gentrification discussion is the reality that as whites moved out of the urban core, critical resources were stripped and went with them. Employment stability left. Stores left. Services left. Resources which are necessary for a community to thrive slowly disappeared. The result was communities were disseminated and succumbed to blight and other negative forces. As bad as that may appear the groups who remained didn’t die off. Instead they created their own identity based on their culture to create a vibrancy which allowed them to thrive and redefine the space they occupied.
City Rising focuses on several communities in California. They are Santa Ana, Long Beach, Sacramento, Oakland, Boyle Heights and South-Central Los Angeles.
One poignant part of the documentary is discussing the issue of racial covenants which made it illegal to sell property to certain groups. Many people are ignorant to this reality and dismiss it as being made up or something which happened lifetimes ago. The sad reality; it is current history regarding real estate ownership. Assemblyman Hector De La Torre lives in South Gate, CA. The discussion centered around him showing the covenant as part of the land title documentation which years earlier would have prevented him from purchasing the very home where he was being interviewed. Even though the practice was outlawed through fair housing legislation, it remained as permanent language within the documentation. Using his activism as a political leader he created a law which would have required title companies to remove the language from the report. Unfortunately, even though the law passed, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it and the language remained as a reminder of the discrimination meted out against certain groups.
The documentary does a good job in highlighting the effects of gentrification. Even though race plays a huge role in its impact, the subtle reality is the class divide or the “haves versus the have nots.”
Cities that were once thought of as “dead” have sprung to life through various forms of reinvestment. Interestingly many of the families who fled the urban core, see their offspring take on a renewed pioneering spirit to reclaim areas. With their economic status, they are able to pick up properties, many on the cheap and with modest investment, transform what was unthinkable into havens of a new lifestyle. Through this process and focus on redevelopment they are able to attract stores and services which provide a great opportunity, assuming one has the money to operate.
People can only buy your property if you agree to sell
Who doesn’t want to live in a “nice” neighborhood? The problem with gentrification and this is where CITY RISING shines is as new people reclaim or move back into neighborhoods, the issue is what happens to the current occupants? Do they just disappear? Do they escape in the middle of the night? For many it’s pure economic, especially the vast majority who are renters. Those who reclaim properties and invest in the restoration are not motivated by some benevolent gesture, but from an economic perspective so it boils down to return on investment. The result is the rise of home prices as well as the rise of rents. Many occupants simply become priced out and that is the ire of those who oppose gentrification. The community they thought they knew……no longer exist, so they must rebuild their lives or try to coexist with their “new neighbors.” Some do it very successfully, most don’t because they do not have the leverage of home ownership.
There is much more to this topic. The causes and effects are worthy of examination. This documentary does an excellent job in creating a foundation for you to move forward.
See the documentary HERE.