Saturday, July 18, 2009
Recently, upon reading the New York Times’ latest piece on Los Angeles, a write-up about the neighborhood’s recent gentrification, I found myself overcome with disgust and disappointment. It wasn’t the neighborhood profiled, but rather the approach taken in its profiling.
For starters, Highland Park is an overwhelmingly working (and lower-middle class, too) class, Hispanic neighborhood nestled in the foothills of Northeast Los Angeles. Home to a long-running, well-documented, violent gang culture that has somewhat tapered off and waned, the neighborhood is full of charm, though, and is characterized by low-rise Craftsman Architecture, old-time independent grocery stores and general-purpose stores, alongside of course, what are without doubt some of the finer Mexican eateries in town. Obviously, as exemplified by the above, the neighborhood is many things; it is however, not a hipster enclave, as described by the article.
What was the most deceiving and inaccurate about the article’s description of the neighborhood had to be this now-famous quote: ‘ What was once a sleepy strip of garish 99-cent stores and auto parts shops is turning into a thriving neighborhood of cool restaurants and boutiques that draw young trendsetters in skinny jeans, flannel shirts and Converse high tops.’ LOL! Yeah, right. Firstly, Highland Park has ALWAYS been thriving. It may just be me, but all of the times I've been, I've (duly) observed an active street and walking culture; with many of its adherents frequenting the aforementioned eateries or stores, or more often than not, utilizing walking as a form of transportation, to their homes. Now, you see, with such densely-packed, retail corridors, and ubiquitous California Craftsman architecture, amongst other splendid urban traits, it’s practically impossible for the nabe to be ‘sleepy’ - it just can't; it's not in its DNA. I'm still puzzled about how can an urban neighborhood not be ‘thriving’? Those streets were walked and well-utilized, since their inception a hundred or so odd years ago – before that of many New York neighborhoods, and certainly before the arrival of 4-odd hipster outposts (like that makes a difference, LOL..). Additionally, the article failed to mention as much as even a world about the heart and soul of the neighborhood and surrounding region, Figueroa Blvd - instead focusing on a small, 3-block stretch of York Blvd; hardly emblematic of the rather large neighborhood as a whole.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have even bothered, as the people walking those streets -- endorsing and patronizing local businesses and establishments obviously weren’t deemed people in the eyes of the newspaper (read: not of the preferred hue). The extensive use of code-speak is to be noted, with my favorite being: ‘local women in short skirts and high heels.’ I'm assuming that's referring to the "urban" locals? Though, the lack of validity of the article isn’t all the fault of the newspaper or it's associated correspondents – plenty of blame is to shared with the people interviewed; in this instance, being the pretentious, holier-than-thou newcomers, who feel as if they are bringing salvation to the locale...acting as if they have authority over the neighborhood. Lastly, I know opinions and perceptions regarding vibes and atmospheres are highly subjective, but I feel it is safe to say the image painted by those interviewed is a hardly composite image reflecting the reality of Highland Park.
As if the above weren’t enough evidence as to why the article is to be taken with a grain of salt, here’s further evidence: ‘But few would ever confuse Highland Park for a cultural district.’ When in reality, a better question would be, how could you not mistake it for be a cultural district? With one of the strongest neighborhood identities, the most visible mural and street art culture scene anywhere in LA and the fact it is well steeped in culture-rich establishments such as the Charles Lummis house, Southwest Museum, Avenue 50 loft space, Chicken Boy, Galco’s, the said eateries, and of course, like most of LA, a glorious past? It's cool, though..Highland Park is hardly hurting for ‘culture,’ and in fact, many comparable neighborhoods would be jealous. HLP definitely doesn't need to such articles to seek credibility or validation from aloof, detached transplants and outsiders -- especially since the best things about the nabe went without mention.
All of this leaves me the least bit surprised, though. New York Times and newspapers in general, are no strangers to misinformation or, at what best can be described as dubious reporting. This only lends further credence to the NYT’s inaccuracy and lack of understanding (and interloping, and wishful thinking..) when it comes to LA reporting. Sadly, in light of a severely weakened and exiled LA Times (now run by Chicagoans) I should brace myself for more of this.