Monday, March 19, 2018

Echo Park Gentrification Watch

While there is always room for the unique and the exceptionally good, Echo Park does not really need another restaurant. It definitely does not need another chain restaurant. And, above all, it does not need a Chipotle.

Before gentrification, Echo Park was primarily known as a Mexican neighborhood and this stretch of Sunset Boulevard has always offered a wealth of spots for burritos and agua fresca and Mexican pastries. These are mostly locally owned businesses and all have deep ties to the community and its culture. When well-funded, heavily marketed franchises move in, the existing businesses get hit from two sides: they lose customers to the new places and they see their rents go up.

I sometimes think the concept of cultural misappropriation is overused, but it's difficult to avoid in this particular case. A Mexican American community seeing its local dining scene being invaded by a trendy the corporate restaurant serving some consumer-research team's idea of Mexican food.

Part of the problem with discussing gentrifying neighborhoods is that, in the early stages, almost everyone is a winner. Crime goes down. Existing businesses start seeing more customers which leads to more hiring. Night life picks up and with it arts and culture. In almost every way, things have gotten better.

Then comes the phase where the original residents and businesses  start finding themselves forced out. Well established locally owned places find it difficult to compete against well financed operations with higher prices, larger capacity and much bigger marketing budgets. Apartment dwellers seee steady increases in rent.

A little later, the younger "creative class" types who started the process are forced out as well along with the independent shops and coffee houses that can no longer hold off the high end retail outlets eyeing their spots.

We are often told that you can't have the first part without the last, that simply stopping when things were good for everyone would violate some kind of natural law. This might be true, or it might be that there's a tremendous amount of money to be made in these last stages, and the people making that money are controlling the narrative.

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