Echo Park’s white folk are not so rare after all

Trying to describe a multi-ethnic and racial neighborhood like Echo Park always seems to get you in trouble. Someone always feels left out of the United Colors of Echo Park, which have shifted over the decades and can change from block-to-block. The LA Times, for example, in a story about the deadly March gang shooting spree near Echo Park Avenue and Baxter Street quoted one resident as saying that it was ‘”very, very rare” to have white people in the neighborhood in the 1990s.”‘ That, of course, lead some residents to complain that the paper had oversimplified the neighborhood’s diversity. As a result, the Times published a correction:

“An article in the March 3 Section A about a triple shooting in Echo Park described the changing demographics of that area and quoted a resident as saying white people were a rarity in the neighborhood in the 1990s. Census data indicate that the resident was correct in describing his own immediate neighborhood, but that other parts of Echo Park had substantial non-Latino white populations at the time.”

Well, whether you agree with this correction depends on how you define “a rarity” and “immediate neighborhood.” The Echo Park shootings took place in U.S. Census Tract No. 1974 (shown above). It’s one of several tracts that make up the neighborhood and stretches from the more affluent hills of Elysian Heights on the north to the more crowded and poorer flats along Sunset Boulevard on the south. In 1990, before the most recent wave of gentrification left Echo Park awash in coffee houses, Priuses and bushy sideburns, the Census takers counted 7,114 people living in the tract. Of those residents 4,105, or nearly 58%, identified themselves as being of Hispanic origin. Non- Hispanic whites, meanwhile, totaled 1,645 or about 23% of the population. Saying whites were a “rarity” doesn’t sound correct when they made up nearly one out of every four residents.

With the government preparing for the 2010 Census, I’m sure the United Colors of Echo Park will shift again, providing more data to debate and trip over.

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