Blog post

The Politics of Race and Place > USC Equity Research Institute (ERI) > USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

June 2022

In Los Angeles, as in major cities across the United States, city officials are working to transform the downtown core into a place of entertainment, culture and commerce for affluent business travelers, tourists and residents alike. . What happens to those who live in these places and how important is race and class? Because urban planning policies aim to appeal to high-income consumers, academic research and media accounts generally describe the impact of these policies as class-based and race-neutral. Additionally, because senior city officials and corporate elites wield enormous political power and resources and support downtown development, there is a long history of policies displacing low-income residents and destroying their neighborhoods. Research shows that low-income residents generally lack the political power to stop their displacement.

In my book, Building Downtown Los Angeles: The Politics of Race and Place in Urban America, using data from archival research, fieldwork, interviews, newspapers, and the U.S. Census, I examine how supposedly race-neutral policies have significant racialized effects. For example, Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) has seen a dramatic increase in the percentage of white residents over the past few decades, even though the percentage of whites in the city has remained fairly constant. In contrast, the percentage of Latinos in DTLA declined as it increased in the city. I argue that public funds used to rebuild DTLA—and the city’s use of eminent domain to weed out low-income racialized minorities for new projects—contribute to racial change and tend to benefit new residents and consumers. , which are predominantly white, giving added meaning and importance to race in contemporary United States

Rather than a byproduct of class factors, I argue that race plays a critical role in the process of demographic change in DTLA and other American cities, in part because of the history of policies and practices that have racialized capital accumulation. Economists often explain differences in wealth between racial groups by personal and cultural factors, such as human capital, class capital, and ability to save. This explanation, however, ignores exclusionary government policies and societal practices that have created unequal opportunities for capital accumulation. For example, home ownership is one of the main ways that middle-class whites have generated wealth. In contrast, the history of exclusion of racialized minorities from this important process – through the practices of governmental, financial and real estate institutions – has contributed to the racial wealth gap. In Los Angeles, the median net worth of white households is more than eight times that of Latino households. Similarly, explanations of gentrification that focus on demographic changes due to class and market forces miss the importance of how the accumulation of racialized capital affects access to housing and employment. entrepreneurship.

The Coalition for Growth with Equity

Researchers document that it is primarily organizations that represent the interests of affluent residents that have the resources and political influence to counter corporate growth interests. My research, however, shows how an effective coalition of labor and community organizations has formed in Los Angeles – as in other urban areas in the United States – to represent the interests of low-income residents. Aided by the growing Latino electorate, they worked to negotiate major changes in the city’s development policies. A key event that illustrates the rise of this coalition is the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) that was negotiated with the developer of LA Live (a large entertainment complex) in 2001. CBAs are contracts that include benefits such as affordable housing, living wage jobs, local hires and grants for displaced residents.

Laying the groundwork for the CBA, this social justice coalition—along with groups such as Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, Esperanza Community Housing, and service worker unions—has worked successfully to electing officials who are responsive to issues important to low-income and working-class residents. In the years since the founding of LA Live CBA, the coalition has struggled to move beyond negotiating CBAs with individual projects, as it is too resource intensive and not a sustainable strategy to long term for community organizations.

Instead, the coalition is working to bring about a fundamental change in the city’s development policies through the implementation of a “growth with equity” framework – which involves integrating some of the major aspects of CBAs with city projects involving large government grants and/or large contracts. . For example, the Los Angeles Community College District, Unified School District, and County Transportation Authority have established living wage ordinances and agreements that include local hire provisions, construction apprenticeships, and career programs aimed at increasing the number of women and minority people in unions. . This is a major shift for these unions with their history of exclusive hiring practices. Second, the city is implementing policies that include a broader population than is possible with individual CBAs. For example, Los Angeles introduced a substantial increase in its minimum wage. Voters passed the JJJ proposal which includes provisions for affordable housing, salary levels and hiring for housing projects requesting zoning discrepancies.

These changes demonstrate the transformational change in city politics over the past few decades due to the rise of a progressive coalition that has the political power and resources to establish policies that take into account the interests of low-income people. and minorities. This change recognizes that developers receiving city support for projects should provide community benefits and contribute to jobs and housing that improve the lives of local residents rather than perpetuating poverty and unhealthy living conditions.