Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Whitewashing the Los Angeles River? Gente-Fication Not Gentrification: Green Displacement Threatens Communities of Color and Low-Income Communities

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Whitewashing the Los Angeles River? Gente-Fication Not Gentrification: Green Displacement Threatens Communities of Color and Low-Income Communities

Article excerpt

Revitalizing the Los Angeles River once offered hope for a more sustainable, livable and socially just city. There is growing evidence, however, that green displacement is destroying equal opportunity along the river. As neighborhoods become greener, more desirable and more expensive, people who have fought epic battles for a better life for their children, families and neighbors through parks, schools, green jobs, climate justice and river revitalization can no longer afford to live or work nearby.

Our nation was founded on the ideal that all of us are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Government agencies and recipients of public funding must distribute the L.A. River revitalization benefits and burdens fairly for all residents. Civil rights strategies by the people offer hope along the river and beyond. That's how the people won victories at L.A. State Historic Park, Rio de Los Angeles State Park, Baldwin Hills Park and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' (USACE) $1.4 billion plan to green 11 miles of the 52-mile L.A. River documents that there is not enough park space in the county for people of color and low-income people. This lack of park space contributes to related health disparities, and recipients of public funding need to ensure equal access to benefits from revitalization and compliance with civil rights and environmental justice requirements.

The plan, generally a best-practice example for equitable planning, does not adequately address displacement, recreation and climate change.

Displacement and Gentrification

The USACE recognizes that gentrification could cause significant impacts to people through river revitalization, but states "no clear trends have emerged." However, there is a disturbing pattern of displacement along the river in the 11-mile USACE study area. The percent, number and density of non-Hispanic white people has increased dramatically, even as their presence has declined 0.15 percent throughout the county from 2006 to 2015. In Tropico in northeast L.A., for example, the density of non-Hispanic white people has increased 168 percent, while dropping 19 percent for people of color, and incomes have increased significantly--18 percent.

Diverse allies promote equitable river revitalization through the framework outlined in Equitable Redevelopmmt for the Los Angeles River (2017). Community goals include healthy, safe parks and recreation, affordable housing, thriving wages, opportunities for diverse enterprises, environmental remediation and funding to prevent displacement. Standards and data to measure equity and progress hold officials accountable and allow for planning and midcourse corrections. "Park poor" and "income poor" standards to invest funds under state law, the L.A. County Department of Public Health study of parks and health, and the County Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment offer methods to prioritize communities with the greatest needs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, gentrification, the transformation of neighborhoods from low to high value, can displace longtime residents and cause businesses to move because of higher rents, mortgages and property taxes. These housing, economic, health and justice issues affect a community's history and culture and reduce its social capital. Gentrification and displacement often shift a neighborhood's characteristics --racial or ethnic composition and household income --replacing existing businesses and housing in underserved neighborhoods with new retail and commercial establishments and higher-cost housing. This threatens the social fabric of marginalized communities and exploits their vulnerabilities, reducing their resilience and adaptive capacities. Communities become more susceptible to economic, political, social and environmental shocks and transformations, including the decline of neighborhood networks and support structures. …

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