Sunday, January 23, 2005

A Better Reason for Bars

Over the last few years, as the neighborhood around North Chinatown (5100N) has gentrified, a conflict has developed between longtime storeowners and new condo owners.

A January 23, 2005 Tribune article describes this situation in more detail:

Argyle St. burglar bars divide old, new cultures

I was actually quite impressed with the article in the candid way it addresses the racial issues involved. A great deal of the mainstream media articles tend to focus on a colorless view that only encompasses the primary white perspective. The journalist (who happens to be Latino) interviews and quotes people on both sides of the equation although, perhaps due to language issues, he doesn't interview anyone who is strongly in support of retaining the bars.

One dynamic that was most disconcerting, but hardly surprising was the utter condescension and lack of respect the newer residents had for the long-time shop owners who have built the community from the ground up. In Uptown's poor economic times, it has been these shopkeepers who have retained faith and their investments in this area.

This is one of the more serious problems with gentrification--an utter lack of regard for existing communities and the work it takes to build communities. Sure, genetrification brings wealth and due to inequalities in policing and opportunity, tends to reduce crime. Of course, the minor side effect is that the vast majority of the people who made the community desirable in the first place are forced out of the community. Furthermore, if they stay, they are regarded with contempt by people who perceive themselves as superior because they dropped half-a-million on a condo instead of putting in time and effort to build a community for themselves.

I like locusts. Some of my best friends are locusts. But I don't want them living next door to me. Some may argue that this echoes housing discrimination, but anyone can see the difference between discriminating against someone based on cultural values and discrimination against someone because they are a disrespectful asshole who never does anything constructive.

Argyle Street Chinatown is beautiful the way it is. If the merchants who built it believe that they need bars or other "eyesores", that's their choice. If a brick is being thrown through a window or two (as mentioned in the article), then unless the new condo owners want to pick up the tab, I think it would be foolish for the storeowners to take down their bars.

Of course, there's the added issue of racial entitlement in this equation. Historically, there is a very strong reason for shop owners of Asian descent to fear damage to their stores. Racist targeting of minority businesses for vandalism and violence is an American legacy.The white property owners can't or won't put any empathy into understanding the shopkeepers' fear of damage to their stores, instead meeting the shopkeepers' fears with condescension, veiled racism and heavy handedness.

For me, this is the strongest reason to keep the bars--safety issue aside. If keeping the bars will drive out privileged, racist, white property owners and their sense of entitlement, that's the best neighborhood improvement strategy I can think of.


Blogger Matthew said...

I've heard of a similar issue which is described in this article going on in other neighborhoods in Chicago. A friend of mine was telling me about an artsy neighborhood which has a character and charm all its own. Apparently, many non-artsy, yuppified folks who are bland, bland, bland simply love the area, and have been moving in en masse for the past few years. My friend now says that the place has lost most of its old charm, and is just another bland, gentrified yuppy haven.

In the case you cite, one wonders why members of the ethnic majority gravitate to a particular location, especially that of an ethnic minority which has made the place especially unique, if all they want to do is change it into something unrecognizable?

If I buy a heavily wooded plot of land, with the intent of building a cottage in the woods, one would assume I'd be keeping the trees, right? What sense would it make for me to then cut down all the trees?

10:52 PM  
Blogger xian said...

Taht's a great question, my friend. My feeling is that it is a conflict of two different motivations--the self-reinforcement of living in a "cool neighborhood" and the idea that "I'm rich so I can do whatever I want."

The first motivation brings people to the area, but once they are there, they set about eradicating individual things that they don't like or see the need for, even if it means destroying the essence of what made the neighborhood a good one in the first place.

Additionally, I think we have to realize that at least some (and most in my opinion) of the gentrifiers have no clue what's good about the neighborhood--they just know it is a "trendy neighborhood" where property values are rising.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

You've touched on a good point, which is that too many people don't actually think - about a lot of things. They impulsively know that a neighborhood's cool, and that they want to live there, but they don't stop and think about why they find it cool. They typically end up obliterating any coolness, charm and character, and thus the reason for their moving there in the first place (unless, of course, their reason included a subconscious, deep-seeded desire to put the socio-economic smack down on ethnic and cultural minorities).

I'm reminded of something I read last year out of DC. As you know, DC has a heavily African-American (and Democratic) population, with 'white flight' having taken place decades ago to the surrounding suburbs and communities. Apparently, the blacks and other minorities left behind have made great strides in cleaning and sprucing up the neighborhoods, and many of them are now considered desirable. Of course, this is causing the cautious white folks to now feel safe in returning to live in the city, so DC is starting to get an influx of suburban yuppies who are moving in to the ethnically-mixed, formally-poor-but-now-nice neighborhoods.

From what I gather, it's not that the ethnic minorities dislike living with the ethnic majority, it's moreso that the majority is coming in after all the work has been done, to reap the benefits of the labor and sweat of those who poured their hearts & souls into building-up the existing neighborhoods.


11:05 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

It makes sense that the new tennants don't empathize with the old shopkeepers, the whole purpose of gentrification is to take inner city land that was one deemed unfit for the middle classes, yuppify it, and now sell it back to rich folks who don't want to commute anymore. They don't give a fuck whether the shops are broken into or not, because they just want to the poor out of their neighbourhood.

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At a November block club meeting, one resident went so far as to suggest that Argyle Street needed fewer stores geared to Asians and more that appeal to white residents, according to several participants.i don't really want to withdraw my citizenship from the united states, but sometimes i want to withdraw my skin from the white race.

what about opening up an abercrombie and fitch? all the dumb (edited) fools of any race shop there.


5:47 PM  
Blogger xian said...

i don't really want to withdraw my citizenship from the united states, but sometimes i want to withdraw my skin from the white race.Nice quote.
The important think to remember is that "the white race" is only worthy of contempt from the perspective of the suffering that is caused through the institutions of privilege and oppression that it creates to serve itself at the expense of Others.

So it is utterly possible for someone to "withdraw their skin from the white race". If white person works to understand the very privilege that benefits them (and weakens them) and strives to destroy these institutions, then they have, in every practical purpose, withdrawn from their race.In the same way, a person of color who chooses to support those institutions in exchage for lesser, but similar privileges, is in spirit guilty of the same crimes as most white people are.

10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. I wish white people would be more ethnic. It would make America more fun. Right now, you can drive for miles and see the same ffffffing chain stores.

2. - anarchy against gentrification.

3. For the whites to move in, some people of color sold out their homes, and moved away. So it's not just a white invasion, but some folks are deciding to cash in and relocate, perhaps for their retirement.

4. Look at how the cops will figure into this situation. See where those resources go, and how they might start to be used against the local residents.

12:11 AM  
Blogger xian said...

Thanks for the link, is that your webpage? I really don't know much about L.A. except the outside conventional bullshit/wisdom, so I appreciate the chance to learn more, especially about parts of town neglected in the mainstream media. Thanks!

I agree with what you are saying except I just wanted to qualify something here:

3. For the whites to move in, some people of color sold out their homes, and moved away. So it's not just a white invasion, but some folks are deciding to cash in and relocate, perhaps for their retirement.

Some folks aren't about making their retirement cash, they just can't afford the property taxes and inflated rates of living in a gentrifying/fied neighborhood. I know the only way my grandfather retains his building is the property tax break he gets for being an old dude.

12:08 AM  

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