Real Estate Development is a field of study that is constantly evolving based on market conditions. These changes take place dominantly in big cities such as New York and Los Angeles, where constant modifications are to be made to keep up with the changing times. Living in LA is a blessing to those interested in development due to the continuous revival of older foundations. Transforming the slums into mixed-use projects that will attract visitors is a main trend, taking place in the Downtown Area. Many aspects go into the decision of what to develop and where to do so. What are these factors one may ask? A main one would be the population inhabiting the area along with what the city and government see for that site. Living in LA, specifically the area surrounding USC, gives an individual a true taste of wealth and poverty coinciding. In Downtown LA, you may drive one block and be by Staples Center and turn into a neighborhood one block down and enter the slums. In the process of decreasing the slums there are two actors in competition; one the real estate developer and the other the policemen and government officials that patrol the slums. Is urban renewal a byproduct of the developers’ efforts or the policing of the government officials? This question is one that holds much weight.
Urban renewal is a highly talked about and recurring theme throughout Los Angeles and other well-known cities, such as New York. The causes of urban renewal efforts are unclear however. It is hard to defer between the policing of the government officials and the doings of the real estate developers. Taking LA as an example and examining the reasons for urban renewal would result in a laundry list of bullet-pointed reasons. When looking for an area to inhabit, one, first and foremost, takes into consideration the safety measures being taken within the area. Places saturated with crime will have less interest from families, due to the fact that parents would want to keep their children safe and away from crime. Crimes such as burglary are acted out because of poverty and poverty is highly seen in the area surrounding USC, better known as the slums. Before reviving these slums, there are many steps that take place and many people involved in the process.
It is a common correlation that falling crime rates lead to increased property values for houses in the area. It has been proven, however, that there is simply more to this correlation than the simple facts at hand. The focus on real estate values itself, do not even nearly scratch the surface on the process of redeveloping a neighborhood. More than focusing on development and crime, we must focus on the deeper problem of real estate redevelopment and crime. Crime, of course, is a major factor in deciding where to develop, but in the redevelopment process we must go beneath the surface and focus on the steps taken in the redevelopment process. These steps include investments by the developers, initiatives taken by the city planners and the competing forces of the homeless agencies that work to protect their clients living arrangements. Crime is of course a main factor in this process, but the real problem lies in the conflict over real property, which in turn results in an economic restructuring of these underdeveloped and unsystematic neighborhoods.
Skid Row is known as containing one of the largest stable populations of homeless people in the United States. Driving through the area, many people may feel a sense of fear overcome them. Fear results from the belief that someone or something is dangerous and that they are likely a threat and going to cause pain. This fear instilled in us in relation to Skid Row is a result of the idea we have of Skid Row. The streets of Skid Row are filled with mentally ill and drug dependent individuals. Rather than feeling fear, however, we should feel sympathy for these individuals. They are humans just like any of us and we should not judge them because we don’t know their reasons for being on the sidewalk of that street. It is a surreal experience however, having Skid Row situated amongst some of the most luxurious, profitable and successful business buildings in Downtown LA. Skid Row is often compared to disorder as stated by the broken windows theory. The broken windows theory was proposed in 1982 by James Wilson and George Kelling and used the term broken windows to describe an area of much disorder and crime. The introduction of this broken windows theory brought about changes to the way policing was carried out in these areas. The theory Wilson and Kelling went off was that serious crime was the end result of a chain of smaller crimes. The reason for crime in their eyes was disorder, and with the deletion of disorder, crime would find an end. The aggressive panhandling, street prostitution, drunkenness and public drinking, vandalism, public urination and graffiti are a few amongst the many markers that qualify Skid Row as an area of disorder under the broken windows theory.
Although Skid Row is still in its disorderly stages, there has been plenty of development taking place around it. Downtown LA itself is experiencing a facelift. There has been much development of lofts and apartment buildings, plenty of which are taking place in neighborhoods adjacent to Skid Row. The main conflict in LA is brewing between the developers of these lofts and apartments and those people that are advocates for the homeless and their rights to live comfortably in the disorderly circumstances they have to deal with.
Crime rates are a main determinant in the make up of a city. Looking back at history, Los Angeles has gone through many instances of discord where the LAPD’s attention was highly necessitated. Some examples are the Rodney King beating in 1991 and the Rampart scandal in 1998. During these historic events in LA’s history, crime rates in the greater Los Angeles area actually decreased. This did not hold true for Skid Row and its surrounding areas however. Surprisingly, during these times, there was an increase in crime in this area. With these high crime rates, Downtown LA is still seeing high-end real estate development. Some say however, that new developments in the area are the causes for street crime. With the new fancy and luxurious lofts and apartments, those occupying these spaces are becoming easy targets for street crime. These facts are yet another signifier that crime and policing efforts may not be factors in the process of urban renewal.
Like I mentioned a little earlier, living in LA with Skid Row merely blocks away makes everything surreal. Living amongst millions of dollars of new and prospective real estate on one side and then having Skid Row situated in the middle of it all gives us a real-time view of the gentrification taking place in Downtown LA. Skid Row has, in a sense, built a name for itself. Not a reputable one or somewhere one wants to go; rather it is one that someone would want to stay away from, but nevertheless, it is apart of Downtown LA. The conflict with Skid Row is that the homeless advocates and surprisingly, the high-end developers as well, want to preserve the effect Skid Row brings to Downtown LA. Developers see Skid Row as more than just a street that poses a threat to those around. They view it as providing edginess to the neighborhood, bringing the feel of Manhattan with the high-end lofts mixed with the homeless beggars on the streets. It adds flavor to the city, one that is naturally there, and disrupting that flavor to the point where the historical context will be lost is not the intention of the advocates as well as the developers. Being a dweller in Downtown LA, I have had first hand exposure to Skid Row through volunteering and simply taking a drive through the area. Tagging the area as an area full of crime and one to stay away from is heartbreaking. My first time volunteering to go feed the homeless on Skid Row was an empowering experience. They are humans just like all of us, but having fallen into different life circumstances, they are now left on the streets. By simply taking an hour or so of my day giving them food and small necessities like sweaters and socks really left an impact on me. I must agree that taking away Skid Row or developing to the point of disrupting the effect of it would take away more than the edgy flavor it provides to Downtown LA. It would take away what the homeless call their homes, and that to me would be worse than taking away the flavor it provides the city.
Prior to visiting the homeless on Skid Row, I had never gotten a chance to drive through it or get a feel for the area. The image I had in my head was one of a slum with barely any development and tons of homeless lining the streets. To my relief, once I did get a chance to visit the known street, I saw that more than just homeless lined up on the street, there were hotels and apartment complexes specifically for those who cant afford the expensive housing offered in Downtown LA. After some research, I came to the understanding that there are many organizations advocating for the livelihood of the homeless and also the lower income individuals and families that revive old structures and transform them into livable quarters for lower income families. Although there are these advancements in the area, it is still horrific witnessing the pain in the eyes of the homeless living on the streets. I almost feel wrong driving through the street, considering that these people don’t have a single change of clothes while I have a car. These homeless people are in need of major medical attention, many of them with diseases but no means of treating those diseases. It has been found that the rate of drug related deaths on Skid Row are 10 percent higher than our country as a whole. That is what irritates me. The city has so much money to renew older structures, yet they don’t put in enough effort to aid the homeless that are suffering merely streets down from us.
Downtown LA has come a long way in renewal of the city largely due to USC and its efforts at making the city a safer place for everyone. At the end of the day, when a city’s streets look clean and the buildings and structures are kept up-to-date, it becomes more inviting for foot traffic. Since USC is situated amongst what used to be an area full of crime, they are buying out most of the properties around the campus to keep the surrounding area free of crime as well. At the end of the day, it is about real estate and the perception people will get of the city. Real estate developers aim to bring proximity amongst individuals in the city through developing properties that will foster interaction. Preserving the city and its historical roots are important but if there is a chance to renew what is already there and bring in more foot traffic, they will do so.
The job of real estate developers is to study the market and learn about the demographics of the people living in the area. The description of those inhabiting Downtown LA nowadays is the more young and hip individuals, out there for school or work. For this reason, Downtown LA has been seeing a lot of mixed-use development, which is the idea of putting apartments or living spaces on top and having retail and restaurants on the lower level. This type of development fosters relationships and promotes mingling with the inclusion of café type outdoor places and retail shops. Networking amongst young adults is popular and this type of set-up allows for networking to take place in a relaxed and casual setting. While this is the job of the developer, when it comes to Skid Row the topic becomes sticky because development in this area ruins the encampments that are homes for those people. Skid Row has a name and a reputation for itself. There is no way of eliminating it completely. Development does take place around the vicinity, but if developers try to renew what is inside the bounds of Skid Row, this is where the problems arise. It is a controversial topic and one that is usually misinterpreted when discussed. In an article I found about reviving Skid Row due to the increase in need for housing in Downtown LA, there was an interview between a woman who lives on the row selling cigarettes and an interviewer. This woman, her name Leah, said that “the cops are starting to crack down more, I guess ’cause they want to clean up down here to make it better for people to live, but this is Skid Row; it’s always going to be Skid Row.” When people think of Downtown LA, a specific image of Skid Row, whether one has physically been or not, comes to mind. That is an image that, no matter how gentrified and renewed Downtown LA becomes, will never leave the mind of a person when talking about the city. As bad and horrible a sight it is, Skid Row is a home for the homeless people, and changing the look of this area would be like taking away the only home they know. With all that these individuals must worry about, the last thing on their minds should be the thought of being displaced from the only place they know and being forced to find a new place of shelter. For this reason, the topic of development on Skid Row has always been and will always be a topic of much emotion and controversy.
As I did some research on the topic of bringing housing to the areas surrounding Skid Row, I came across the name Tom Gilmore and after further research I found this developer to be the main actor in the development of these properties surrounding the area. His background was what surprised me the most. Developers, for some reason, have the title of cocky and solely after the money, but Mr. Gilmore was way more than after the money. Before becoming a developer, he was a commissioner for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. This organization handles all the needs of the homeless in Los Angeles. He was on the housing authority commission within this organization. After deciding to pursue development, his main goal was to intertwine his love and passion for the homeless and aiming to aid them with his passion for development. With his heavy involvement in homeless advocacy and now his great involvement in the development coming to the area, he is at the center of the conversations that take place and the many meetings that are held discussing this topic of development surrounding Skid Row. The main issue with other homeless advocates is that the development is taking away from the homeless peoples’ living spaces and making room for the young professionals inhabiting the area. The structures that Gilmore redevelops are those that are deemed empty for multiple years. There is no displacement of homeless individuals in the process, rather a revival of structures that are left abandoned and empty for years. Mr. Gilmore also employs the homeless in the building of his visions and his developments are for the homeless to enjoy. He aims at building mixed income housing which are good for the working poor as well. In an interview, when asked why mixed income housing is the way to go, Gilmore answered, “the working poor are the most extraordinarily important group of people, because they are either the foundation of the new community or they are the foundation of the soon-to-be-homeless and that’s a group you have to deal with radically.” There is so much to be said about Gilmore’s answer. The vast amount of homeless is already over what it should be and it is tragic to see the streets filled with them, and so adding onto that number would be an even more tragic step. If we are able to prevent the working poor from going into poverty and being forced into the streets, we should take every measure possible to do so.
Due to the changed demographics in Downtown LA with the heavy influx of young professionals, the living conditions necessitated have changed. Apartments and lofts are in higher demand than single-family homes, and in order to feed this demand stimulus there must be a supply response. Many garment factories are closing down with the jobs being exported and they are being converted into apartment or loft-style residential spaces. With Skid Row spanning 50 blocks, this development is taking place around the vicinity. Some believe extra housing will help the homeless on Skid Row, but Mr. Gilmore, in another interview, tackles this dilemma. He goes on to say that the homeless found in this area are chronically homeless, have diseases and drug addictions, and these are problems that with or without housing, will not go away. More than housing, these people need medical care and attention, and nothing is being done in that aspect to help these people. Mr. Gilmore is knowledgeable on the topic of housing but when confronted with the question about creating housing as a remedy to the homeless peoples’ issues he fires back by saying, “housing stock is about creating the steps for affordable and moderate and market rate housing. Special needs housing, shelter plus care, all that, that’s a different animal.”
Back to the topic of the relationship between criminality and homelessness, Mr. Gilmore made a remarkable distinction in saying that “many cities criminalize homelessness in an effort to stem criminal behavior amongst the homeless.” It is wrong to consider homelessness a crime. Yes, there are heavy amounts of crime that take place on Skid Row and other homeless environments, but passing those crimes as being carried out by the homeless and therefore not paying attention or putting in the effort to stop the frequent crimes is wrong. The problem with crimes on Skid Row are that they are rarely reported due to the fact that most everyone living on the street are homeless, and if they are reported it is by a homeless person and it is hard to tell whether they are in the right state of mind or not. The areas surrounding Skid Row are busy during the working hours, but when businesses close down the only inhabitants in the area are the homeless. For this reason, Skid Row is unique. Policing in the area is a whole different story. There have been many stories leaked about how corrupt police stations across the nation are. When it comes to Skid Row, they police based on a quality-of-life metric. There are times when the police would come and randomly arrest whoever they felt like arresting for that day. There are times when the police will stop wrongful manhandling acted out by security guards patrolling the area, but most of the time when cops come around Skid Row it is to make arrests.
As important as policing and patrolling the area are, it is not performed in an ethical and efficient way. The advancement of urban renewal on Skid Row, then is not a factor of policing or crime trends but is a product of real estate development as mentioned earlier. At the end of the day, real estate is what keeps a city constantly working. Real estate brings in tax for the city and keeps the people inhabiting an area involved with their neighborhood. Due to the increase in young professionals, the development of apartment and loft-style housing will not subside. Bringing housing to areas surrounding Skid Row pose a slight problem in that they bring with them higher prices, and a main worry is that if prices sky rocket to an extent where lower income individuals will not be able to afford housing, then they will be pushed out and be left homeless as well. In a city like Los Angeles, it is important to always be conscious of the people living within the bounds of the city. We have the higher-end professionals but also have the lower-end working poor and homeless. In developing and renewing the city, it is important to have everyone in mind and work to preserve what already exists and develop in places that can use a facelift, all the while maintaining the culture and historic feel.