Retorts: The two sides of gentrification

A CONCEPTUAL DRAWING of the Steelcraft Garden Grove project planning for a 2018 opening.

Here’s the good news. Get ready for your property values to rise. Here’s the not-quite-as-good news: your kids may have to move to East Overshoe in order to find an affordable house to buy.

At the heart of this in Garden Grove is the process of what’s called “gentrification.” That’s a hoity-toity sociological term meaning that some low-income neighborhoods become higher-income areas as more wealthy people move in. It’s a situation sought by many, and mourned by more than a few.

The Big Strawberry, like a lot of older suburbs that boomed in the Fifties and Sixties, is going through a new cycle. It started out as a small village in the Wild West era, became a real town after the railroad arrived a century ago, boomed after World War II and saw white flight in the last 30 years or so.

Demographically, the GG is toward the bottom of Orange County in terms of income and education levels, although it’s still above state and national averages. Those darn demographics are what’s keeping Barnes & Noble and Trader Joe’s and such out of city limits. But that’s all starting to change.

It will take a while for the shift to show up in statistics, but you can already see the change. The Cottage Industries project east of the Civic Center – still a year out – will take a neighborhood of small, older homes and turn it into a hip new location of wine bars, breweries and art galleries. That’s the sort of thing that attracts younger, more affluent and educated homebuyers.

That’s not all. The Steelcraft project on Euclid Street (on the site of the old Black Angus) will bring up to 20 new stylish eateries and such onto a busy street with high visibility smack between the downtown and the Civic Center. When both projects are up and running, they will inject a level of economic vitality and word-of-mouth which will ripple outwards from there.

I could list more signs of upswing – Brookhurst Triangle, at least four more new hotels (along with restaurants) along Harbor Boulevard, the coming OC Streetcar, the recent sale of the old Pavilions building – but there is another side to all this joyfulness.

Gentrification has been controversial in some places. When older, less attractive areas are bought up and turned into popular new places with trendy attractions, it not only pushes property values up, it can drive out folks with low- or even moderate incomes.

This is exacerbated by the severe housing shortage we are now experiencing, which also fuels the homelessness problem. Some people resent the cultural changes which the process can bring. A modern new coffee house in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles has been vandalized out of fear of a traditional Latino neighborhood becoming a hangout for bearded hipsters.

If I’m right – which happens from time to time – Garden Grove’s stock of housing and retail space will become more attractive to buyers and investors. With below OC market rates and with bigger lots, this area could well be seeing a shift of consumers away from the cookie-cutter outer suburbs (hear that, Aliso Niguel Viejo Hills?) toward the walkable, funky streets of my hometown.

Is this a zero-sum game? Does the prosperity of some mean crisis for others? We’ll see. But I think that most people probably feel that gentrification is a problem that they wouldn’t mind having.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears each Wednesday. He also believes in blooming where you are planted. For more thoughts in gentrification, see https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/09/this-is-what-happens-after-a-neighborhood-gets-gentrified/432813/

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