- Taking Back the Boulevard: Art, Activism, and Gentrification in Los Angeles by Jan Lin
By Jan Lin
New York: New York University Press, 2019. 256 pages https://nyupress.org/9781479895700/
Urban development and gentrification continue to be pressing issues of our time. How does a city promote responsible growth? How is local culture preserved and kept from being appropriated in the process of introducing new cultures? And what are the roles of artists, neighborhood activists, and policymakers in the process? In Taking Back the Boulevard: Art, Activism and Gentrification in Los Angeles, Jan Lin examines the current dynamics of gentrification and displacement in Northeast Los Angeles. The author employs ethnographical techniques, in-depth interviews, content analysis of several materials, and quantitative data from the City of Los Angeles and the US Census of Population and Housing, to explore the historical arc line of revitalization and neighborhood transition in Northeast L.A. In addition to the introduction and conclusion, the book is structured by five thorough chapters. In these, Lin makes theoretical connections to a web of other seminal research in the field of gentrification and urbanism, including the works of Jacob (1961), Lefebvre (1974), Zukin (1995), Duneier (2001), Deener (2007), and Lloyd (2010).
The first chapter of the book offers a historical overview of the Northeast L.A boulevards, narrating the cycles of cultural and economic rebirth experienced in this part of the city. The author pays particular attention to the Highland Park and Eagle Rock neighborhoods. Moreover, Lin traces urban decline and rehabilitation to the construction of highways that obsolesced electric-streetcars servicing the inner-rings of these areas. The discussion notes a sequential flow of disinvestment and white flight, trailed by the settlement of Latin American and Asian communities, to a more recent trend of gentrification and white return. Chapter one offers thick descriptions of the Northeast L.A. scene, and discusses the role of artists, hipsters, local businesses, green activism and community involvement in the process of reviving and gentrifying Northeast Los Angeles. The second chapter of the book deepens these ideas by mapping the various stages of neighborhood transition, both chronologically and geographically. As part of this discussion, Lin addresses gentrification in Northeast L.A. as an excellent illustration of the stage model of gentrification, arguing that, "gentrification happens not just anywhere, but especially in certain focal neighborhoods that go through earlier phases of cultural change and economic renewal" (Lin 2019, 58). Chapter three focuses on the role of the arts and culture in Northeast L.A., which were affected during periods of economic regression and white flight. Lin focuses on the influence of Arroyo Culture, Latinx artistic consciousness, and community coalitions that helped preserved architectural and cultural heritage. In this chapter, Lin solidifies the significant links between the creative economy of Northeast L.A. and gentrification.
The last two chapters of the text develop criticality in the text's discussion by investigating civic engagement and the more serious consequences of rapid urban expansion. Chapter four explores the rise of "slow growth" and neighborhood activism in Eagle Rock and Highland Park. The discussion brings attention to a range of community endeavors such as the Take Back the Boulevard Campaign, the Johnson Schumacher Building Campaign, and Saving Eagle Rock Campaign, as well as the emergence of neighborhood organizations such as, Eagle Rock Association (TERA), Eagle Rock Community Preservation and Revitalization Corporation (ERCPR), Highland Park Heritage Trust, and Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition (FSWMC). Finally, the last chapter of the book examines themes that overlap with other gentrification literature about "rights to the city" or as Lin says, "the dark side of gentrification" (Lin 2019, 170). The discussions include issues of neighborhood trauma, displacement, homelessness, gangs and at-risk youth. The book concludes by offering some reflections on how urban policies can improve the more problematic components of gentrification, and promote public engagement that advocates for social justice.
Similar to the work of Deutsche (1996), Cameron and Coaffee (2005), Shaw and Sullivan (2011) and others, Taking Back the Boulevard exposes how the relationship between art and gentrification remains complex. As shown by...