“How Gentrification Threatens Chinatown in Los Angeles”

May. 9, 2016 – Real Estate in Mind


While gentrification can be very good at improving the attractiveness and safety of low income neighborhoods, it is also placing ethnic enclaves increasingly under threat of total destruction. People move into cultural enclaves, especially Chinatowns, in order to maintain a connection to their home culture, language, and people. Immigration tends to produce an intense culture shock. Living in an ethnic enclave softens that blow, and makes overall assimilation easier over the long term. Living in an ethnic enclave can allow you to open businesses that cater to that particular group that would not be successful any where else. While they don’t make impressive amounts of money, they do make enough to support themselves, their families, and a small group of employees. It even allows these enclaves to maintain their native languages. That is, until gentrification begins.

Gentrification however destroys these enclaves. When hipsters and artists move into these areas looking for a lower cost of living, they generally have good intentions and make improvements to their homes. The problem starts when waves of people begin to follow these first gentrifiers. New businesses, which aren’t often related to the original inhabitants, begin to open which then draw even more money and affluence to the area. This quickly leads to an explosion in the cost of renting in these areas. What starts to happen is the original inhabitants are swiftly forced to close their own businesses. Soon, they are even priced out of their homes! It is more profitable for individual businesses to demolish the original apartment complexes in favor of constructing extremely expensive condominium complexes. This occured in Washington, where some of the remaining three hundred Chinese inhabitants were forcibly evicted from their homes when they could not afford the eight hundred thousand dollar price tag for a condo. Washington D.C., which used to have a Chinatown housing three thousand ethnic Chinese, now only houses less than three hundred. This drops more and more every year as they are forced out due to gentrification.

The Chinatowns of Los Angeles, in fact across the whole of the United States, are doomed to the same fate due to gentrification. Of the Chinatowns in the fifteen largest American cities, only three are not facing the intense economic pressure of gentrification. Gentrifying the Chinatown of Los Angeles can and will lead to the Chinese population being displaced. Their businesses will also be forced to shutter, leading to intense and lasting economic consequences for these people. Poverty tends to be a lasting cycle. Many Chinese Americans built these businesses with the hope of being able to pass them on to their children when they came of age. Gentrification will make this next to impossible for the Chinatowns of Los Angeles.

Moreover, gentrification has the possibility of leading to the consequence of breaking up the families that have become rooted in these areas. Chinese immigrants come from a culture where multiple generations live under the same roof. If they are forced to move, this may not remain economically feasible due to the intensely high cost of living in these cities and the shrinking of living spaces. This can lead to these first and second generation immigrants feeling alienated within their own communities. Suddenly they are forced into communities in which they have no previous connection, ethnic, familial, financial, or otherwise when previously they had a place which was all their own.

Further, the threat of gentrification has the possibility of utterly destroying what made Chinatown great to begin with. Without the Chinese owned restaurants, businesses, and activities, there quickly is no reason to live in or visit Chinatown at all.


2 thoughts on ““How Gentrification Threatens Chinatown in Los Angeles”

  1. Do these waves of hipster gentrifiers not see the damage they are inflicting upon ethnic communities? Such selfishness–as if they were oblivious to the effects–is unacceptable.


    • That’s a great question! I don’t know. I think it raises up questions about the ethics of business, even for small businesses. You have the money to rent a certain space in a neighbourhood for your business and in the current free-market society, you have the “right” to but what impact does it have in the neighbourhood. It may not have the same effect as developers building market/luxury housing in working-class neighbourhoods but it’s part of the gentrification if it’s not intending to serve the local neighbourhood but rather actively transforming the neighbourhood to a cliente that one’s business would benefit most from. Unacceptable indeed, thanks for your comment! -km


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