Gentrification: “It’s not about race…”

By Lindsay Foster Thomas

January 6, 2015

There’s no doubt about it.  I am a gentrifier.  So, why don’t I feel like one? Maybe no one really does, but if I may be honest, I think it’s because I’m African-American.  Does that mean I get some kind of free pass to gentrify without it weighing on my conscience? Not even a little bit.  I think about it a lot.  I experience guilt over paying exorbitant rent prices that I complain about, but can afford with an awareness that my presence and ability to live in the country’s “hottest” neighborhoods means someone else can’t.

But here’s what race has to do with it.  First of all, when middle and upper middle class people seek out more affordable housing options, the most budget-friendly places to turn to are communities that have been historically ignored by developers, retailers, elected officials, etc.  The populations of these neighborhoods are often black and brown people who aren’t necessarily poor or even struggling.  In fact, if houses and buildings have been well-maintained, that’s an attractive foundation to envision a community that feels like home to many more kinds of people.  This is why many folks who decry gentrification define it as a process in which “rich white people” come in and take over everything.  Property is cheaper in predominately African-American and Latino neighborhoods and so these areas are frequently ripe for development, investment and economic change — all courtesy of wealthier people taking an interest.  When I move into such communities, I am perhaps in many ways not like the “old timers” there, but I look a lot more like them than white people and there’s a good chance I share some cultural connections with the neighbors that don’t feel forced.

The second point I’d like to make is inspired by a conversation I had with Georgetown journalism lecturer and author Natalie Hopkinson.  Hopkinson, a longtime D.C. resident, is African-American, a wife, a mother and a scholar who has witnessed many changes to communities within the urban landscape of our nation’s capitol.  She has a career and the financial means to live in almost any neighborhood she’d like.  But, “I don’t have that white privilege,” she says, recognizing the main difference between herself and some of the newcomers to the community where she lives.  “They can come onto the same block and just through the sheer fact of their whiteness, they can raise the value.”

Read on…

Capturing Voices from the Neighborhood

By Caitlin Esch

December 18, 2014

One of the funnest parts of this project was interviewing Highland Park locals in our resident recording booth. We heard stories from a family that landed in the neighborhood after fleeing war-torn Guatemala; memories from a resident who grew up in the extraordinary old house his grandfather built to be an artist community in the early 1900s; tales from a homeowner who inadvertently almost helped her neighbors commit a crime.

Elise Robertson and her daughters Stella and Sadie came in recently to talk about the girls’ bilingual public school. Elise moved to Highland Park with her husband in 2004. “Our joke is we swam up the 110 to spawn,” she said. When it came time to think about school, Elise got together with a bunch of other parents who were new to the neighborhood and couldn’t afford private education. They came up with a plan to get involved and  improve the local public elementary school. “It wasn’t always pretty,” Elise said. At times, new parents’ values clashed with values of those who’d lived in Highland Park for decades.

One of the sometimes sticky aspects of gentrification is the effect on local public schools. Here’s Elise’s story.

Watch the rest of the resident recording booth series on our YouTube page.


By Lindsay Foster Thomas

December 10, 2014

The kinds of changes taking place in Highland Park can be seen in communities all around the country. So, Marketplace asked people to tell us and show us what gentrification looks like where they live using #gentrificationis.  Here’s a sample:

Dudes racing to work. #twotubman #tomseleck #startup #sf #sanfrancisco #gentrificationis

A photo posted by Chris Ford (@guntrafficradio) on

breathing new life into this yard #gentrificationis not all bad #boyleheights @marketplaceapm

A photo posted by Mollika (@momollika) on

Visit our Storify collection for more great #gentrificationis comments:

Renovating a Neighborhood, One Block at a Time

By Krissy Clark

December 9, 2014

Cyrus Etemad just bought an old bowling alley for $2.9 million. He bought the building next door, for $1.5 million. He’s looking for more buildings on the same street.

So far he owns five storefronts on one block, and all the leaks and termites that come with them. The buildings haven’t been maintained in decades. Cyrus wants to change that.

“I want to see it be reborn in such a way that will pay homage to its history,” he said as he walked down his block.

But that rebirth and the renovations that come with it will require a lot of money. To offset those costs, and make the investment worth it, Cyrus is nearly doubling the rent on his tenants. When they heard the news, most decided to move out. Others don’t fit with the new floor plan Cyrus has in mind, so he has asked them to leave.

“It’s the most difficult part about what I’m doing,” Cyrus told me. “Often there are tenants that have been there for a long time.”

But it’s a common story in a low-income neighborhood that sees a sudden influx of wealth. Old businesses often get new landlords. And that can sometimes lead to difficult conversations.

“Through email the building owner told us that he wanted to talk to us about the changes,” Monica Chon recalled of her first interaction with Cyrus. Monica works, and translates, for her parents, who are from South Korea. They own a shop in one of Cyrus’s buildings. It’s called New Sportsland. They sell  jerseys and souvenirs of LA sports teams.

Read on…

The Vegan-Friendly Restaurant Next Door

By Krissy Clark

December 8, 2014

The first obvious sign of neighborhood gentrification often comes in the form of a new shop popping up. An empty storefront becomes a hot yoga studio. A discount variety store becomes a spot to buy fancy coffee drinks.

On Figueroa Street in Highland Park, one of the new places in town is called Kitchen Mouse, in a storefront that used to sell car-title loans. Where not long ago people with bad credit found quick cash at a steep interest rate, now people with certain dietary preferences (vegan, gluten-free) can find delicious food that meets their requirements.

The restaurant is modest, bright and cozy. White subway tile, antique flea-market tables, hand-woven tapestries on the walls. It feels like you’re in someone’s well loved kitchen.

Since I work for a business show, I always ask– how did you finance the place? Get it off the ground?

“Honestly, you don’t want to know,” owner Erica Daking told me. “To get our doors open, about $250,000.”

Erica’s cafe grew out of a catering company she started. The recipes came from her mom — family favorites with a modern twist. The quarter of a million dollars came from her two business partners.

Read on…

Photographing Change

By Lindsay Foster Thomas

December 5, 2014

For York & Fig, our special project on neighborhood change, photographer Rafael Cardenas took on the mission of documenting Highland Park, its places, people and signs of transformation for us.  Cardenas, a former Highland Park resident, discusses the assignment, which wasn’t what he expected:

I was so excited when I got the call from Marketplace to take photos for this series of stories about gentrification in Highland Park. We’re talking a national news team calling on this old Chicano from east L.A. to take some pics of a local neighborhood.  Who would say no to that kind of exposure?  I jumped out of my seat.

I love Highland Park. I lived there for a couple of years in the early 2000s. It always made my eyes light up. Everyone that I knew from the area was involved in visual or performing arts. Everyone.

Performers at Avenue 50 Studio during the monthly Northeast LA Art Walk. (Photo credit: Rafael Cardenas)

Performers at Avenue 50 Studio during the monthly Northeast LA Art Walk. (Photo credit: Rafael Cardenas)


I was so happy to get the gig that I started shooting even before they had assignments for me. I shot for a few days gathering images of people on the street and collecting names and numbers.

Then the assignments came. All of them were homeowners or business owners like Rocio Lopez, a hair salon owner whose clientele is moving away because of gentrification, which is also causing her rent to go up.

Hair stylist Rocio Lopez in her Highland Park shop on North Figueroa. (Photo credit: Rafael Cardenas)

Hair stylist Rocio Lopez in her Highland Park shop on North Figueroa. (Photo credit: Rafael Cardenas)

Many people on the assignment list were investors or realtors who had something to gain from gentrification. There was less focus on the subject of evictions or displacement than I anticipated, but I also knew many locals were coming to the Marketplace bureau, being candid about how the change affected them.  Some of those stories reflected the experiences of people who have everything to lose as a result of gentrification.

 Cathi Milligan discusses getting “priced out” of Highland Park. See more resident interviews here.

 One by one, I felt like all of the people that I photographed were really cool people that I wished I could have hung out with longer and gotten to know better. Except for maybe the real estate folks. They all had a simple story of wanting to make money.  In my opinion, all of the hype really comes from the real estate market.

I completed the assignments thinking to myself, this may not be my story or the story that I know, but it is, in fact, part of the whole story.

(Photo credit: Rafael Cardenas)

(Photo credit: Rafael Cardenas)

For more of Rafael Cardenas’ artwork, click here to link to his artist’s Web site.

Staging an “Eclectically-Curated” Home

By Caitlin Esch

December 4, 2014

When we think of changing neighborhoods, we think of flippers — investors who come into a neighborhood to buy homes, renovate and sell them at a profit. But there’s a whole economy built around gentrification, including home staging.

(Photo Credit: Rafael Cardenas)

(Photo Credit: Rafael Cardenas)

Sarah Brady and Cordelia Reynolds own Platform Home Staging. They let our producer Caitlin Esch and project photographer Rafael Cardenas tag along as they transformed a beautiful old Craftsman home into a hip, well-designed space.

“We’re trying to tell the dream, this is how your house could look, if you didn’t actually have any clutter,” Sarah said. “Everybody walks in and is like, I wanna live here, I wanna move in.”

That house, by the way, sold for just under $700,000–about $55,000 over asking price.


(Credit Photo: Rafael Cardenas)

Click here to see more homes tranformed by flipping.

The Art of Attracting Hipsters

By Caitlin Esch

December 3, 2014

Brothers  Robert and Armando Santos own Liquor Azteca de Oro, located on a hip stretch of York Blvd in Highland Park. They say they’ve started stocking specialty items that appeal to “the hipsters, the new people in town.” And business has been very good.

Robert and Armando let Marketplace Wealth & Poverty producer Caitlin Esch hang out in their shop for an afternoon, recording the sounds of a liquor store in a gentrifying neighborhood. Take a listen:

Marc Maron on Hipsters and Gentrification

By Caitlin Esch

December 2, 2014

Marc Maron records his podcast “WTF” in the garage behind his house and shoots the cable TV show “Maron” in surrounding Highland Park, where he’s lived for years. Marketplace Host Kai Ryssdal stopped by the garage to talk about gentrification, hipsters and interview techniques.

Listen to an extended version of the interview below:

Sculpting A Neighborhood

By Lindsay Foster Thomas

December 1, 2014

Early on in this project, one of the first anecdotes about how much Highland Park was changing came to us from Elisa Reyna.  She’s lived here her whole life; her family owns one of the community’s most famous Mexican restaurants.  Elisa was flipping through a magazine with her young son, who stopped on a page with a “sexy” ad for Pop Physique, the boutique fitness studio.  She’d seen these storefronts before, offering an “artistic approach to exercise” in ritzy neighborhoods of Orange County and Santa Monica.  To Elisa’s surprise, a few weeks later, she noticed a new Pop Physique had opened its doors … in Highland Park.

Organized fitness isn’t a foreign concept in Highland Park.  There are countless storefronts that clear the floor to transform into Zumba spaces several times a week, a public rec center that’s popular with the neighborhood’s young population and a cycling club that dominates the streets on art walk nights.  But Elisa says a place like Pop Physique – where a month’s membership is just under $200 is unexpected in Highland Park.  Marketplace moved in around the same time as the fitness studio, and we both opened our doors on the same street, North Figueroa. A billboard on the north side of our building advertises Pop Physique: “Sculpting LA.”  A few miles away, in the long-gentrified neighborhood of Silver Lake, another billboard gets a little more specific.

Confessions of a Serial Gentrifier

By Lindsay Foster Thomas

November 18, 2014

Hello. My name is Lindsay, and I’m a serial gentrifier.

For me, it all began (perhaps appropriately) in New York City just a few short years ago. I was a graduate student studying journalism at Columbia University, and university housing was most affordable for me, although hardly affordable for someone on a student’s income without the help of school loans. My super-small studio apartment had all the comforts of a size 10 shoebox and cost me just upwards of $1,000 a month. I hated the restrictions of the space, but I loved the location: off Broadway, just a heartbeat from Harlem’s famous 125th Street. The subway let out just above my building. I very quickly became aware of Columbia’s tense relationship with the predominately black and brown communities of Harlem. Gentrification wars had been raging for years before I arrived, and the school was still in the process of buying up properties and renovating them for higher rents. Many longtime Harlem residents fled higher and higher Uptown, to more inexpensive parts of the city, or left New York all together.

After grad school, I landed a great job in Durham, North Carolina. I found a spacious, one-bedroom loft in a former tobacco warehouse downtown, and paid an exorbitant $891 in rent – high for most Durhamites, but a financial relief after my stint in NYC. At first, it didn’t feel like I was a gentrifier, but after a couple of years, I observed a transformation in Durham. The small city once mostly known for being home to Duke University and for its proximity to Raleigh became a creative class destination with foodie write-ups in the New York Times.

Read on…

How Do You Measure Gentrification?

By Caitlin Esch

November 12, 2014

(photo credit: Christopher Gilman and Thao Nguyen)

(photo credit: Christopher Gilman and Thao Nguyen)

Gentrification is a tricky term – it’s difficult to define and to measure. Residents have shared many stories with us about how the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles is changing. But we wanted to quantify that change. So, with our partner, Occidental College, we organized the first Northeast LA Datathon.

Researchers, students and community members gathered to brainstorm the ways in which gentrification reveals itself. Then they analyzed and mapped that change.

Read on…

Talking About Their Neighborhood

By Caitlin Esch

November 5, 2014


(Photo Credit: Lindsay Thomas)

Students at Franklin High School in Highland Park have a lot to say about how their neighborhood is changing. Marketplace reporter David Weinberg led a series of radio production workshops at the school this fall. We focused on one theme: gentrification. Students interviewed parents, neighbors and friends about how their neighborhood is changing. Here’s a mix of their work, produced by David (featuring interviews by students Chayuda Sitthiphap, Lucy Molina and Natalie Gomez).

The Life Cycle of a Flipped House

By Caitlin Esch

October 30, 2014

(Photo Credit: Rafael Cardenas)

(Photo Credit: Rafael Cardenas)

In Highland Park, it’s common to see a home overflowing with people, toys and household objects one day, empty the next. After a few months of construction, these homes go back on the market and a new family moves in. It got us wondering about the life cycle of a flipped house.  So far this year, absentee buyers (usually investors) have bought about 27 percent of homes on the market in 90042.

Our reporters, Krissy Clark (left) and Noel King, got a tour of one such property with investor (and former pro football player) Dek Bake. The family who used to live there? They cashed out and moved about an hour east to Riverside. Bake says he purchased the house for $390,000. He’ll spend up to $100,000 knocking down walls and opening up the floor plan, then put it back on the market for as much as $650,ooo.

Have you heard of people cashing out? Where are they going? Email us at Tweet us @MPWealthPoverty.

(Photo Credit: Rafael Cardenas)

(Photo Credit: Rafael Cardenas)

That’s right. It’s #HipsterHumpDay!

By Lindsay Foster Thomas

October 22, 2014

Just for fun, let’s be hipsters.

Oh, you’re already a hipster? Well, pardon me.  Carry on.

Wait, a second! That was a trick question.  First rule of Hipster Club: Never admit to being a hipster.

Why on earth are we talking about hipsters? Because it’s hard to talk about gentrification without addressing the hipster problem. And, because, no one wants to own up to being a hipster – well, I don’t feel so bad labeling it a “problem.”

Hipsters are usually credited – or blamed – with rapid neighborhood transformation.  Their mere it’s-always-sweater-weather presence can summon both intrigue and fear into local dwellers as a signal that something about their community is on the cusp of  major change.  That’s because it’s hipster tastes that retailers hungrily cater to, for no amount is too much to pay for an “authentic” artisanal meal.

Let’s back up.  What is a hipster anyway? It’s a hard question to answer (thus, a problem).  We’ve posed it to ourselves and several people who’ve stopped by the bureau here in Highland Park.  The answers are varied, factoring in everything from age to race to fashion sense to how much money one has in the bank.

It’s the financial aspects of being a hipster that is, to me, most simultaneously fascinating and baffling.  Forty-four-year-old Highland Park resident Chaka Carter, who you saw in the video montage above, posited this:

“Generally someone that pretends they have low income and live a lo-fi lifestyle when actually they have ample wealth and they are very conscious about how they put forth their image and how they want to seem.  They want to seem authentic.  They come across as kind of arrogant though…generally, someone in their early 20s to late 30s who probably has money, but tries to act like they don’t.”

Hmmm.  If Carter’s understanding of hipsters has any weight, how far are what he perceives as comfortably-dressed young posers willing to go to appear down-and-out?

I mean, they’re notorious for their second-hand clothing shopping skills. And those “hipster fences” you always hear about? Laying wood horizontally not only looks cool, it saves on labor! Fewer cuts mean those fences are cheaper by far.  No wonder they’ve caught on.  On the financial front, hipsters just might have something to offer us all.

Whether you love ’em or hate ’em, hipsters – whoever they are – are here to stay (at least until the next trend generates a new hipster-eradicating buzzword), and so we dedicate our blog this Wednesday to these icons of change. Twirl your ringmaster’s mustache and raise a glass of your finest craft beer to the first Hipster Hump Day!

Okay, now it’s your turn to have a say. We’re looking for great responses to help us flesh out our definition of a hipster. Answer one or more of the following questions and send your messages to Or, Tweet in 140 characters or less  @MPWealthPoverty and, just for fun, why not use #HipsterHumpDay?

-What’s a hipster?

-Can you describe a hipster in great detail?

-Have you ever asked yourself if you’re a hipster? And?!?

-Hipsters: awesome or nah? (Okay, we’re just instigating ire with this one…)

Highland Park’s place for neighborhood stories

By Lindsay Foster Thomas

August 25, 2014

York Boulevard & Figueroa Street is a most interesting intersection.

It’s the crossroads of a large neighborhood (pop. 60,000) called Highland Park in northeast Los Angeles.  Here, at any given time of day, all of your senses are treated to both the cultural traditions of this historical community and the many ways this neighborhood is rapidly changing. One of the latest changes you can find at York & Fig is a storefront – one that doesn’t sell anything, but rather invites residents and passersby in to share their stories about Highland Park.  The space belongs to Marketplace, a national public radio program based in Los Angeles.  Marketplace’s four-person Wealth & Poverty team of reporters and producers occupies this community bureau and we’re here on a mission: to examine how an area changes when wealth moves in — a process commonly referred to as gentrification – and identify the forces driving that change.


Well, the answer to that can be found in the personal budgets of most Americans.  The cost of housing is steadily increasing across the country.  We pay roughly 58 percent more on housing today than we did in 2000.  On average, those leasing homes spend about 43 percent of their income on rent.  This major line item doesn’t just affect low-income people, it affects middle and upper-income earners too.  It affects all of us.

Why Highland Park?

The 90042 zip code is where, according to RealtyTrac, home values have soared about 200 percent from March 2000 to 2014. Last year, Redfin declared Highland Park the hottest “up and coming” neighborhood in the country. Rents are also rising, and the demographic makeup of this majority Latino neighborhood is undeniably shifting. We want to know how local families are dealing. Are they skimping on other necessities, like fuel and food? Are they being displaced, moving to more affordable neighborhoods? And how are urban landscapes changing as populations swell in cities like Los Angeles, New York, DC and San Francisco?

The G-Word

People feel really strongly about the word gentrification.  We know it’s a loaded one.  That’s because at the heart of the idea, it’s about bringing big and small changes to the places we call home.  Some think it’s good, freely using positive phrases like “urban renewal” and “neighborhood improvement.” Others lament displacing residents who’ve weathered years of disinvestment and the loss of cultural and community traditions that can occur when new dwellers arrive. Our team is paying rent through the fall at an intersection where we hope to learn more about what we all mean when we talk about gentrification.   And we’re documenting this project all along the way.  We’ll use our bureau to work, conduct interviews and have conversations about the nuances of gentrification with people who are experiencing this kind of community transformation. Inside, there’s an office and a booth where we’ll record stories from residents.  And we’ll host events relating to development, transportation, art, storytelling and more.

A place for neighborhood stories

windowWe’re a radio show.  We want your stories and your input on this project of ours.  If you’re in LA, come by and say hello. We’re at 6187 N. Figueroa Street with hours Monday through Friday, 10 am – 6 pm and some Saturdays by appointment, too.

If you’re not in LA, no worries.  You can still be a part of our storytelling.  Email us day or night at and we’re on Twitter and Instagram @MPWealthPoverty.  Submit your ideas and images to us with the hashtag #gentrificationis and finish the following phrase to join the conversation: “You know your neighborhood is gentrifying when _______.”