Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Skid Row, Gallery Row and the Space in Between: Cultural Revitalisation and Its Impacts on Two Los Angeles Neighbourhoods

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Skid Row, Gallery Row and the Space in Between: Cultural Revitalisation and Its Impacts on Two Los Angeles Neighbourhoods

Article excerpt


In the last decades, many cities of the Global North have used cultural revitalisation strategies as a means for neighbourhood improvement. Such strategies can take different forms such as promoting a neighbourhood's ethnic heritage, establishing a cultural or arts district or developing cultural and community centres or local museums, amongst others. Largely influenced by Richard Florida's theory of the 'creative class' (2002), the purpose of such projects is often to attract human capital, business growth and investment. While some scholars find that neighbourhoods and cities with high levels of cultural amenities grow faster (Glaeser and Saiz, 2003), others argue that cultural revitalisation strategies can also lead to gentrification and displacement of some groups (Ley, 2003). Of course, how such strategies affect different neighbourhoods may also depend on their specific socio-cultural and economic context and the power of local social actors seeking to shape the urban environment (Guterbock, 1980). The purpose of this study is to take a close look at these micro-level interactions and the spatial and political contestations and negotiations that occurred amongst a variety of actors during the process of cultural revitalisation in two adjacent neighbourhoods of downtown Los Angeles.

More specifically, the study explores how the cultural revitalisation in the Gallery Row neighbourhood of downtown Los Angeles is affecting the adjacent Skid Row neighbourhood. It seeks to address the following questions. (1) How do local actors intervene to shape the process of neighbourhood revitalisation? (2) What are the spatial and/or political contestations that result from such interventions? (3) Is cultural revitalisation a 'zero-sum game', always benefiting wealthy gentrifiers at the expense of disadvantaged denizens?

The paper unfolds as follows. First, it provides an overview of the literature on cultural urban revitalisation and gentrification, giving particular emphasis to what it tells us about the social actors of gentrification. Next, it describes the context of the two study neighbourhoods and explains the research methods followed. Then, it reports on an ethnographic study that closely followed the actions and interactions of different local stakeholders in the two neighbourhoods. The concluding section responds to the research questions and explains how revitalisation takes place in a socio-physical arena where the actions and attitudes of individuals often affect outcomes.

Cultural urban revitalisation and gentrification: brief literature review

Over the last decades, culture has become an essential ingredient in the economic development strategies of many cities. In part, this is the result of the transition from an industrial to a post-industrial society, local responses to globalisation and emerging environmental and lifestyle trends attracting a certain type of urban professional (Evans, 2004). Early work by Sharon Zukin (1982; 1996) has documented the emerging tastes and preferences of a new class of urban dwellers, desiring an 'authentic' urban experience characterised by cultural and economic diversity. This has informed the practices of planners and private investors in instilling notions of culture in the built environment. Additionally, public officials and private developers have been influenced by the more recent writings of Richard Florida (2002), who argued that, in order to achieve employment and population growth, cities should develop a culture of openness and cosmopolitanism that attracts workers of the 'creative class'. Attracting such individuals requires that cities cultivate urban neighbourhoods with clusters of small-scale music and performing arts venues, art galleries and trendy nightclubs, as well as create opportunities for collaboration between arts organisations and private enterprise. These 'cultural quarters' (Roodhouse, 2009) act as a focus for cultural and artistic activities and thus create a social environment that 'mobilize[s] people's creative capital, which in turn leads to the ability to innovate, create new business, attract other companies and ultimately create new wealth and prosperity' (Florida, 2005, 53). …

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