Photos by Travis McFarland and Nate Miller
When I moved to Los Angeles in 2007, the term “Downtown” elicited the sort of incredulous stares one would get after telling a new acquaintance that you are a furry enthusiast, Branch Davidian, or avid watcher of Jersey Shore. Practically no one in the city frequented Downtown, and even fewer were willing to live there. During the day Downtown was a center of commerce and government, but at night, it was a terra incognita, a place to go only if you were unfortunate enough to work there, or if you needed a check cashed.
Today, Downtown Los Angeles is a thriving example of renewal and gentrification. The neighborhood is changing block-by-block, whiskey bar by whiskey bar. You can get a coconut-infused Old Fashioned on the same street where you used to be able to buy crack by the pound. Much like the far more publicized Brooklyn, Downtown Los Angeles is the place to be if you want to live a life of perceived danger.
Unlike gentrified Brooklyn, some of Downtown LA’s danger is not just perceived. It’s legitimate. Some streets remain untouched by the gentle hand of urban revitalization. LA’s Broadway still reigns as the prime location for anyone looking to buy cowboy hats, Ranchero CDs, and knockoff sports apparel. Skid Row remains the prime location for anyone looking to buy human body parts.
The balance between rich and poor, native and insurgent remains tenuous at best. The opening of a new Starbucks on the corner of 6th and Spring Streets prompted a 15-year resident of the neighborhood to proclaim that the area had “gone to shit in a hand basket,” which was a curiously potent mixing of metaphors.
As I walked the streets of Downtown recently, I decided I would cast aside my feelings of affluent remorse and embrace the positive effect people like me have had on the area. I’m here to tell you that gentrification is getting a bad rap. I live comfortably and happily in a very spacious loft with a great view of the skyline. There’s a pool and hot tub on my roof, plus 24-hour gym access in my basement. I even get dry cleaning service, which comes in handy when I spill a craft beer on my H&M blazer after bumping into an Iraq War veteran missing a chunk of his brain.
Gentrification is a godsend; a panacea for all that troubles this unstable period in American history. I have hardwood floors for under $1,500 a month, for Christ’s sake. At that price, I should be fellating my building manager until my lips are chapped.
The revitalization of Downtown Los Angeles is universally fantastic for all citizens. I came to this point by doing one small thing. I simply decided to ignore everyone with less money than me. If this sounds problematic or impossible, then I am here to say that you just aren’t trying hard enough. Here are some foolproof ways to keep that pesky conscience from getting the better of you while you shove artisanal cheeses down your gullet.
Do Not Make Eye Contact With Homeless People
Most of the time, they just don’t even bother looking at you. Some are too ashamed. Others are asleep. A few are praying Romney doesn’t win in November. The rest just don’t want to talk to you because you probably look terribly pedantic, despite your best efforts to the contrary.
Stay Away from Dark Alleys
Poor people congregate in alleyways. It’s a convenient place to defecate or urinate. Finding a place to pee is damned near impossible in Downtown Los Angeles, because most business establishments refuse to allow non-customers to make use of their bathrooms. Also, there are very few public toilets.
For the city traveler, you have two choices. Choice number one is peeing in public, which is tough to get away with if you are not white or financially stable due to the police waiting for an indigent to club.
Or, you can use one of the many modern, hygienic toilets in businesses that force you to spend money in order to enter.
For the broke person in need of relief, the only solution is the privacy of the dark alley. It is truly a matter of survival, as no one can live without expelling waste. Survival is more important than interaction for most poor folks, which means most bums will stick to the alleys and leave other people alone. Of course, for you, the most important thing is to find someone to read your spec script. Actually, a homeless person might read your spec script if you let them bum a cigarette, which could be very beneficial, since most homeless people in Los Angeles give great notes.
Do Not Smoke
The favorite activity of the indigent (besides drinking) is smoking. They are the moths. Your American Spirit is the flame. Homeless people might actually be the best deterrent to nicotine addiction since cancer.
Do Not Use Public Transportation
Try your best to ignore how convenient and easy trains and buses are in Downtown Los Angeles or any other urban center. It’s tempting to think that you can cast off the shackles of your exorbitantly expensive automobile and hop on the subway. You might think that escaping hellish traffic will make your life and the environment better. You might even be foolish enough to buy into the notion that taking public transit will give you a better sense of the community that you live in. All of these things are true, but it means you have to interact with dirty people, which will bum you out. Resist at all costs.
New York Magazine recently featured a cover story bolding proclaiming, “Brooklyn is finished.” When I read that, I pictured a soufflé emerging from an oven. I’m sure the residents of Brooklyn would not appreciate their home being compared to a food item, no matter how irresistibly delicious. What the editor of that magazine has not yet realized is that cities cannot be finished. They can only be ruined. It’s up to you to decide how your city should be fucked up. Gentrification displaces whole communities. It turns affordable areas into enclaves for upper middle class glad-handing. It also allows people to visit a neighborhood without being stabbed with a samurai sword.
Do you want a city center filled with colorful characters, lively social interactions, and unique culture, or do you want to be able to get a Pumpkin Spice Latte at 9:45 PM? I know how I would answer that question.
Be sure to make mine a grande.