Friday, December 01, 2006

gentrification junction, what’s your function?

This morning I jogged up West Boulevard instead of up Vineyard and—this is the miracle of Los Angeles, and of jogging—a whole world opened up to me. From the small bridge over Venice Boulevard, I could see into the rundown-but-elegant gated community on my right and the gravel pit that was once a closed-down hardware store on my left. It was a clear, sunny morning, warm but with a bite, the light golden and almost dangerous-feeling, the way I’ve heard it is not in other parts of the country.

When I turned onto Pico, I passed the Pico/Rimpau Transit Center, also known as the bus station. I admit I hadn’t been there on foot since my keys got locked in B’s car at the carwash two years ago and I unexpectedly found myself taking the bus home. But I’ve noticed public transportation is enjoying a renaissance (or maybe just a naissance) in LA, and Pico/Rimpau testified to this.

Last I checked, the bus junction was dingy and haunted-looking, the way you want bus stations to be in movies, but not when you’re taking the bus after dark. Now it was all pale stone and bright signs and, most distinctively, adjacent to a Starbucks. Since the liquid pumping through my heart is two parts decaf nonfat latte, my first thought was, “Hooray! A Starbucks within walking distance!”

But as I took in the other stores in the brand new strip mall—Panda Express, Foot Locker (coming soon) and Wells Fargo (also coming soon)—my feelings grew distinctly mixed. My neighborhood is starting to look like the area where my sister lives. Westchester/Ladera Heights is a pleasant, middle class, largely African American but ultimately diverse neighborhood with an overwhelming abundance of convenient chain stores: Vons and Marshalls and Magic Johnson Starbucks and T.G.I. Friday’s and Bath and Body Works all on one block. It has all of the things that poor neighborhoods are lacking.

And so the part of me that knows, statistically, that bad things happen when there’s nowhere to hang out but 25 liquor stores is glad to see Panda Express and Foot Locker. These are stores that the people who already live here—myself included—could use. They suggest that Mid-City will not be Downtown, where overpriced boutiques sprouted next to the tents of Skid Row almost overnight, with little time for the working class or even the middle class to put down roots.

Still, the part of me that unjustly prides herself on living in Liquor Store Land like it is some kind of accomplishment, and the part of me that likes bleak and haunted spaces, and the part of me that likes arty little boutiques, and the more justifiable part of me that roots for small family-owned businesses like Aceptamos Estampillas—all those parts see Panda Express and sigh a little.

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