Culture Karma

Can Gentrification and Preservation Co-exist?


By Randy Kraft

I spent a recent afternoon in Venice Beach. Haven’t been there in years and much seems to have changed. Muscle Beach’s circus performers and bikini-clad roller skaters are still around. But the entire town, particularly the Abbott-Kinney shopping district, which is comparable to our downtown, has gentrified into an elegant urban setting with contemporary architecture, upscale shops and hip restaurants, while also retaining its artsy heritage.


I found myself wondering if this is what Laguna Beach might be like if our progressive contingency had its way. Rather than a small city [population 40,000+] steeped in the past, Venice has re-invented itself as a go-to community. A realtor’s window featured not one home under $1 million. The shopping district has an eclectic mix of new construction of no more than two stories and craft-style bungalows retrofitted to offices and shops, including the most gorgeous coffee house I’ve ever seen. Not a chain in site – no Starbucks, not even a Chico’s. Only high-design and high fashion merchandise beautifully displayed. The prices match – shockingly high. Even neighboring Main Street in Santa Monica seems a bit shabby by comparison.


Venice was once home to the California beats as well as surfers, and these might not approve, but current residents seem content with gentrification. A new sophistication has taken hold here, but has also attracted young families. Along the side streets bordering the downtown, tiny cottages are still hidden behind plank fences or overgrown foliage, but I was able to sneak a peek at charming contemporized dioramas within. And so much to do within walking distance!


I loved the vibe: old-California meets modernity. I imagine there have been resistors, perhaps elders of the community who might prefer that the city remain as it was. History reports that Venice Beach has had to make its own way as a result of neglect by Los Angeles, which annexed the city many years ago, so they’ve done so with intent. A concerted effort has been made to be more than a tourist town and offer residents an upgraded quality of life. That is, if quality is measured by style.


However there seems to be substance here as well as style – Venice Beach Community Services offer many options for the needy and there is great diversity among the population. I suppose the proximity to LA is a major influence, but if Venice is any indication, it is possible to move forward even as you hold the past in your heart.


Randy Kraft is a freelance writer who previously covered City Hall for the Indy and pens the OC BookBlog for www.ocinsite.com.


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