For the 20th anniversary of the Rodney King riot, newspapers are running stories on the Mean Streets where the rioters lived. (The above picture is from today's L.A. Times.) A decade ago, I wrote the same article for the 10th anniversary of the riot and ran into same conundrum: the residential streets around the notorious corner of Florence and Normandie in South-Central L.A. look fine.
But the business streets look awful.
This isn't a new phenomenon, either. On July 4, 1977, I drove around Watts, a dozen years after the Watts riot. The side streets of Watts looked nice. The main streets looked bad.
In theory, South-Central L.A., or as it's been officially rebranded "South L.A.," could represent the world's largest gentrification opportunity. The weather is phenomenally mild and this sprawling region is freeway close to lots of jobs. South-Central is one of the few neighborhoods in the world to host the Opening Ceremony of two Summer Olympics, and is home to the most famous film school in the world.
But, white people in L.A. find flat land unnerving. They mostly want to gentrify hilly neighborhoods, which, deep down, they find psychologically reassuring. Hills look more tactically defensible for when the hammer finally comes down and the long-awaited L.A. Apocalypse is at hand.