It was a gorgeous Saturday in Los Angeles and my friend and I were driving around the city, avoiding the freeways, and enjoying the most quintessential way to hang out in Southern California: driving somewhere in your car. A very random and bizarre antique shop on Melrose Ave. in the Hollywood/Larchmont area caught our eye, and with no schedule restrictions we popped in for a look.
After our spontaneous stop, we were both craving some coffee. So I poked around on my phone and noticed that a coffee shop that a friend of mine had raved about was less than a mile away from where I parked my car. We decided it was too beautiful a day to get back in our car and try to find parking again, so we decided to walk there.
The map above shows our walk, and the photos below are what we saw on our walk across 8 blocks from our parked car to the cafe:
What’s most astounding to me, is the proximity of these two very different realities. On one side close to the Hancock Park Country Club, you have a two million dollar home for sale, manicured green grass on front lawns and curbside medians, absolutely exquisite landscaping, fancy lamp posts, and yard workers populating the otherwise empty, quiet streets with their hard work and dedication.
When only a few blocks away eastward, towards the 101 Freeway and Koreatown, on the very same street you see metal bars lining window sills on every home, apartment units for rent, unkept curbside medians full of tall weeds, trash lining the broken sidewalks, vacant lots, and many other signs of urban decay.
What was it about this area that struck me? Was it the fact that in one single square mile, I was able to see both extreme wealth and urban blight existing side-by-side? Most of us have driven through Skid Row, we’ve seen abject poverty at its worst in L.A., we’ve also seen over the top luxury in communities like Beverly Hills. But witnessing both extremes on the same street? What is it about the segregation of Los Angeles’ neighborhoods, primarily by race and class, that has made us somewhat more comfortable with viewing (or not viewing) poverty? Is poverty only acceptable to us in areas where we expect to see it?
Naturally, working at an unbelievably nerdy place like LURN, I couldn’t help but snap some photos, drop some pins, talk to my colleagues, and do some research on why this neighborhood, and many other areas like it exhibit such drastic shifts in amenities, resources and overall character. “We must have walked across two different districts,” I said to my friend, “same old story, low-income folks are always getting the shorter end of the stick: less resources and smaller budgets.”
Low and behold, my research proved me wrong. This area is in fact all within one city council district, District #4. Then perhaps it’s a zoning issue? It turns out that indeed, according to the above map, there is a shift in zoning from Low Residential (yellow) to Medium Residential (orange) that corresponds to the changes I noticed during my walk. But to find out more, I’d probably have to go further back in history to figure out how this juxtaposition initially began. Did I catch this neighborhood in its initial sweep of gentrification? Making its way East from the wealthier Hancock Park area, towards Koreatown? I definitely couldn’t find the easy answer I was looking for.
The map above shows my walk in satellite mode, zoomed out in order to show on a broader scale the stark shift in green spaces in general, as you move further East towards the city center. Livable communities seem to just get grayer and grayer, more polluted, less green, less beautiful. I just couldn’t stop asking myself: if one side of a single street, is part of the same district, in the same community, with the same resources as the other side of the street: then why do they look so different? And why was I so alarmed? Did this unexpected contrast make me less comfortable with the widening income inequality gap in our City?
Overall, this walk further emphasized how much I would like to imagine a city that doesn’t have to experience such profound differences in the quality of life of its residents; whether you have to walk down a street or drive across town to see those differences. Unfortunately, a city without vacant lots, without dangerous cracks in the sidewalks, without homelessness and without gentrification and displacement seems like a pipe dream.
How can we make it a reality? What are the types of things you notice when walking in L.A.?