Tuesday, August 1, 2017

There Goes The Neighborhood


Hello Everyone:

Yours truly felt that #BloggerCandidateForum needed a to chill out after yesterday's rant and rave. Thus, Blogger sent The Forum to the beach, specifically Venice Beach, California.  Yours truly decided to come along for the day to check out the scene.  Blogger was quite amused at all the changes that have taken place over the past decade or so.  The decidedly funky vibe has given way to something quite different. Something that resembles something other than the bohemian haven that was home to painters, poets, writers, musicians, architects, sculptors, and so on.  The late Jim Morrison and Dennis Hopper would cringe at the sight of a Blue Bottle.  Robin Abcarian ponders the changes in her Los Angeles Times article, "They discover, they gentrify, they ruin: How 'progress' is wrecking neighborhoods."  Ms. Abcarian looks at the role that artists play in the gentrification process of certain neighborhoods.  The creative types are often the first ones who settle in neighborhoods like Venice and Boyle Heights and are among the very ones that get pushed out as a result of the gentrification process.  Shall we begin?

Ms. Abcarian begins with her own  recent experience in Venice, trying to get a cup of coffee.  She writes, 

A few months ago, on a Sunday morning, I drove my house near the Venice Pier over to Abbot Kinney Boulevard to meet my cousin for a cup of coffee at Blue Bottle, which is to coffee what the French Laundry is to dinner: peak fetishization...

I circled the block a few times, adamant that I would pay $9 to park in order to buy a $5 cup of coffee (yes).  Fortunately, I found a spot on the street, but not before getting yelled at twice by motorists who were mad mad at me for blocking them as I waited for the space.

Her experience is pretty typical of Venice Beach today.  Abbot Kinney, the main thoroughfare in Venice, was once upon a time a "funky retail outpost that was forever on the verge of being discovered."  Well, GQ magazine finally discovered Abbot Kinney; naming it the coolest block in America in 2012 (http://www.gq.com; date accessed Aug. 1, 2017). After that pronouncement, everything went to pot (not the plant).  

While some may not have an issue with spending $400 on a pair of John Fluevog shoes (Yours Truly never saw the attraction), good luck trying to get it repaired anywhere else but Abbot Kinney.  If the perpetual gridlock and ubiquitous man buns are not a problem for you ("and if you squint hard"), Abbot Kinney till maintains that funky vibe: "low-slung shops, coffeehouses and restaurants."

However, the same cannot be aside for the Oakwood section of Venice.  Oakwood is a residential neighborhood on the east side of Abbot Kinney.  In the bad old days of restrictive racial convenants, Oakwood was the only neighborhood where African Americans could purchase property.  In recent times, Oakwood has been subject to the identical real estate stressors as similar seaside owns.

Robin Abcarian describes the neighborhood, "Developers and new buyers with little regard for Oakwood's place in Los Angeles history have erected massive lot line-to-lot line boxes, some quite industrial looking, that tower offer traditional single-story homes.  Streets are narrow.  Traffic and parking are a mess."

Urban planner Dan Rosenfeld told Ms. Abcarian,

You could substitute the word 'Venice' with Boyle Heights, Studio City, Encino, Mar Vista, Larchmont, Los Feliz, the downtown Arts District...The world changes.  I don't think you can freeze the environment...

As Blogger has consistently maintained, places are organic.  You cannot encase a neighborhood in amber.  Cities are not museums like Venice and Florence, Italy.  Mr. Rosenfeld continued, And that's not our future.  Therein, lies the challenge.

Mr. Rosenfeld describes Venice Beach as "unique planning challenge."  He said,

It has some of the most beautiful beachfront anywhere, a creative character on the boardwalk, older buildings and canals that it absolutely unique.  If you took off restrictions, it would look like Hong Kong.

Blame the developers.

In an article, written by Laura Kusisto for the Wall Street Journal on July 16, 2017 titled "Venice Beach Is a Hot Place to Live, So Why Is Its Housing Supply Shrinking?" called Venice the "toughest place in America" to build new housing units.  Ms. Kusisto reported:

Venice Beach is an extreme example of what has been happening in wealthy urban enclaves across the U.S. that have been resisting new housing development in recent years.  Apartment developers have stepped up production focuses largely on the inner core of big U.S. cities, where millennials are flocking for high-paying jobs and easy commutes, and where development is often welcome.

Meanwhile, surrounding low-rise neighborhoods-many filled with older structures and historical character-are keeping developers out.  Residents of these older urban neighborhoods generally have resisted newcomers, complaining about congestion on roads and public transportation and seeking to preserve architecture, sunlight and views.  (http://www.wsj.com; July 16, 2017; date accessed Aug. 1, 2017)

Issi Romem, the chief economist for the contractor website BuildZoom (http://www.buildzoom.com), told the Journal "the only way to ease housing-price pressure is to relax zoning restrictions and allow tall new buildings across most neighborhoods.

If you don't open the floodgates,...,things won't improve.

Yes, tall buildings is precisely what the city of Los Angeles needs, tall buildings in every neighborhood.

Robin Rudisill, a slow-growth activist and former chair of the Venice Neighborhood Council's land use and planning committee said, "What's really keeping Venice housing stock at critical lows,..., is that so many multi family rental units are destroyed to make way for high-end single-family homes or expensive condos."


Every time they build something new, it's eliminating two-and three-unit buildings to make room for McMansions,...If the city were serious about affordable housing, it wouldn't allow that.

Dan Rosenfeld believes that suburbs and neighborhoods such as Venice with unique characteristics should be treated with care, but the city core-surrounded by the Harbor, Hollywood, the Golden State and Santa Monica Freeways-could handle nearly limitless growth.  Mr. Rosenfeld seemed to Ms. Abcarian that he "...would be comfortable with 100-story buildings inside the freeway ring Tokyo-style."  He said,

Single-family neighborhoods to me are sacred,...We all admire the quality of, first the bungalows, then the ranch houses.  Life is too short, for me as a developer, to want to change the character of our pristine single-family neighborhood.

Little wonder the neighborhoods have hair-trigger tempers when faced with new commercial-retail developments like Abbot Kinney, which has become a gridlocked tourist destination, rather than the local commercial district.

Developers seem to be at a loss over what kind of projects would be sensitive to neighborhood concerns.  Ms. Abcarian describes the situation like this: "It's always: burst through the door with a ridiculously over ambitious plan, then scale back when the inevitable NIMBY explosion occurs."

Case in point, "When developers proposed a first-ever hotel on Abbot Kinney,they roared in with a designs for a four-story, 92-room monolith that would have taken up an entire block.  Neighbor's (naturally) object, and the project, still on the drawing board, has been scaled back". Regardless, "14,6000 of existing commercial space will more than quadruple to 64,000."

Another part of the gentrification equation is the presence of tech companies.  Venice Beach is also know as "Silicon Beach," a reference to companies like Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, located on Market Street, just off the Venice Boardwalk.  The growing social media company is an anomalous in the neighborhood.  "The secretive company has snapped up all kinds o commercial and, some critics say residential units across Venice for its growing workforce."  A spokesperson told Buzzfeed:

We're very grateful to be part of the Venice community and we are sorry for any strain that our growth has placed on those who live and work here...We recognize that we no longer the small startup that we once were and we are necessrily concentrating our future growth outside of Venice.  (http://www.la.curbed.com; March 1, 2017; date accessed Aug. 1, 2017)

Sounds pretty lame.  Snap Inc. has become a visible target, prompting the company has taken to employing a private security force, who have become targets for the neighbors's ire.  Essentially, "If your workstation is a public sidewalk but your work does not involve selling handicrafts or asking for spare change, you need to go inside."

If the tech companies want to be good citizens, they need to leave Venice.


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