The "Other" Downtown Los Angeles

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Despite the far-reaching strides made to improve Downtown's image and character over the course of the past few years, a clear majority of Downtown wasn't as fortunate. While it would be foolish to deny the impact gentrification and the ensuing redevelopment had on the area, the said areas that benefited altogether comprised a small portion of Downtown itself. These areas, which are all over DTLA, but typically, east of Main St., weren’t lucky enough to have prospered in recent times.

Despite the gentrification wave running pretty much the duration of the credit and speculation-filled 2004-2008 real estate "boom" having forever altered the face of Downtown, the momentum wave had yet to hit the many periphery and outlying neighborhoods. Such neighborhoods and areas, in and around Downtown, such as Westlake, City West and other close-in urban areas largely faltered. The real losers, though, were those with no real merit or redeeming qualities. Such areas remained, for the most part, relatively untouched, largely desolate and barren.

The end result was hardly surprising. What we were left with, was more of the same. The near-ubiquitous widespread abandonment and ghost-town feeling; the destitution and blight; a population characterized by social outcasts and rejects such as the estranged, vagrants and the drug and alcohol-addled. And while the aforementioned demographics aren't the only walk of life one will encounter in Downtown, they are among the most enduring and visible.

Accompanying the said groups is a patchwork of working class Hispanics; with the majority being Mexicans of Indigenous backgrounds. Not far behind are the Central Americans, led by Salvadorians, but also present Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Nicaraguans. With low-income Hispanics being the largest demographic, it comes as no surprise that the majority of businesses located there, in one way or another, are tailored to appeal to that market. The cautious new-immigrant arrivals, hawking their wares; the smell of carne asada and pupusas wafting from arcades and sidewalks; the cluttered, dimly lit storefronts that are home to countless knockoff clothing outlets, shady free-abortion clinics, travel agents and “30 minute photo” shops only serve to exemplify that.

Seen in the photos below, is the Downtown of old. The parts that have escaped hands of gentrification, and instead conform to the above-mentioned descriptions. Perhaps these photos are indicative of, and illustrate the "stereotypical" Downtown; the one made out by many to be a mélange of sleaze, grit, dereliction, destitution and generally speaking, a forsaken utopia; bypassed, and left to rot in favor of auto-centricity and suburbia.........

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