Who is responsible for the gentrification of Eagle Rock & Highland Park?

York Boulevard in Highland Park

Is it the house flipper who sells the restored bungalow to a white couple? Or is the owner of the new cafe serving avocado toast responsible? It’s neither. According to an Occidental College professor, you can credit (or blame) the past efforts of neighborhood activists and artists for turning Eagle Rock and Highland Park into poster-child examples of the “stage model of gentrification.”

The stage model of gentrification is used by many sociologists to study the decades-long cycle of urban neighborhoods as they decline and revive. Disinvestment and white-flight open the way for low-income and minority residents to move in.  Later, artists and urban pioneers discover and  begin revitalizing the neighborhoods before even more affluent newcomers and investors arrive. In a story posted on KCET’s Departures website, Jan Lin, an Occidental College sociology professor,  said that the area’s “neobohemian” and “green” brand gentrification are part of that long cycle.

The arrival and work of artists and activists in the 1970s and 1980s planted the seeds for the changes now transforming Eagle Rock and Highland Park, according to Lin. He writes:

Northeast Los Angeles is a good illustration of the “stage model of gentrification,” where homebuyer pioneers, artists, and neighborhood activists who contribute to neighborhood preservation and revitalization of the built environment and urban culture are subsequently threatened with displacement by speculator-investors and more affluent gentrifiers. To convey this, I’d like to draw focal attention to the emergence of Chicana(o)/Latina(o) art collectives in the 1970s and white artists through the Arroyo Arts Collective in the 1980s; and the flowering of Avenue 50 Studio and the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock in the 2000s. They created opportunities for artists, enlivened public space, and fostered regional cultural identity and community through their exhibitions, murals, public art, and youth involvement projects.

It would be useful to cite also the rise of regional neighborhood activism in the 1980s by organizations like The Eagle Rock Association (TERA) and the Highland Park Heritage Trust (HPHT) against mini-malls, uninspired condominiums, and “big box” and franchise chain stores, in favor of coordinated land-use planning, preservation of small businesses and historic-cultural landmarks, and a campaign to “Take Back the Boulevard” in Eagle Rock for bikers and pedestrians.

Lin, who is working on a book about the gentrification of Northeast L.A.,  notes that the “authentic urbanism” and “small-town intimacy” of Northeast L.A.’s boulevards have played a major role in attracting  “hipsters and newcomer gentrifiers.” In fact, Occidental College, which is located in Eagle Rock, recently bought a row of storefronts on gentrifying York Boulevard to raise its community profile and offer amenities closer to campus.

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