SAN DIEGO — Discussions surrounding gentrification and displacement in cities across the U.S. have gained significant traction in recent years. From coast to coast, wealthy transplants have flocked to urban centers, moving into poor or working-class communities that are often historically occupied by communities of color.
In San Diego, California the communities of Barrio Logan and Logan Heights have increasingly become the focal points of discussion centering around gentrification in the region. With Barrio Logan and Logan Heights having seen more affronts to the character and integrity of their communities in recent years, there has perhaps never been a time in which so many outside forces have so desperately wanted into the neighborhoods.
Home to the world-renowned Chicano Park, Barrio Logan and Logan Heights have long been considered San Diego’s creative epicenter, and the heart of the city’s Chicano/Mexican-American community. For decades, the working class, Mexican-American and immigrant residents have fought numerous uphill battles against hyper-aggressive policing, pollution from nearby industry, access to affordable healthy food, and general neglect from the city. And although the neighborhood is quickly becoming a sought-after location, behind its newfound appeal is a long history of environmental injustice, racism, and a legacy of revolutionary resistance and self-determination that has shaped its trajectory.
In recent years, the seaside neighborhood of Barrio Logan has gained newfound popularity amongst younger, more affluent outsiders drawn to the neighborhood for its rich history and vibrant culture. This cultural and economic resurgence has resulted in new restaurants, bars, and a myriad of other businesses opening their doors in the barrio and catering to outsiders flocking to the community.
But the recent shift has come at a cost. As more and more affluent people have been drawn to the neighborhood, long-time businesses and residents have been forced to bear the brunt of gentrification in Barrio Logan.
Last Fall, Barrio Logan landed on Timeout’s list of the “51 Coolest Neighborhoods in the World,” coming in at number six. While many in San Diego (who don’t live in the neighborhood) celebrated this recognition, many residents of Barrio Logan and Logan Heights are concerned that the recent attention will compound the gentrification that organizers, activists, and local business owners and residents have been fighting.
The fear of displacement runs very deep in Barrio Logan and Logan Heights, which are by no means strangers to outside forces displacing residents and altering the fabric of the community. In the mid-20th century, thousands of homes and businesses were demolished through eminent domain as Barrio Logan and Logan Heights were cleaved in two by the construction of the Interstate 5 freeway, only to be further hacked and divided by the construction of elevated on-ramps for the Coronado Bridge in the 1960s.
Now, the prospect of physical displacement at a potentially even greater magnitude and in a far more insidious manner is not so much a distant memory but, rather, a very real and palpable fear as gentrification threatens to slowly but steadily price out residents.
For Ashley Valentin-Gonzalez, a Barrio Logan resident and undergraduate at the University of San Diego, the effects of gentrification are not merely abstract, but a daily reality that becomes more palpable with every passing year.
“When we discuss the effects of gentrification we talk about profits,” said Valentin-Gonzalez. “But I think what has impacted my family and I the most is the emotional aspect and the loss of the support system that was the community.”
Many of the businesses and, more importantly, the people that Valentin-Gonzalez grew up interacting with no longer reside in the neighborhood, having been pushed out by rising rents and property values.
Valentin-Gonzalez admits that growth in the community has been a mixed bag. While the neighborhood has received some upgrades, such as better streets and more lights, most of these amenities are localized almost exclusively in Barrio Logan’s Cultural District and don’t extend to neighboring Logan Heights.
“Almost all of these improvements are only nearby Chicano Park. That’s predominately where all the activity is and much of these resources are being funneled towards,” said Valentin-Gonzalez.
One method that Valentin-Gonzalez and other residents have used in fending off gentrification has been creating the Barrio Logan Community Land Trust Committee. A community land trust is usually defined as a nonprofit corporation that holds land on behalf of a location-based community. The trust serves as the long-term steward for features such as affordable housing, community gardens, civic buildings, and other assets on behalf of the community.
“A community land trust is basically when a community collectively comes together to purchase land, and that land can be used in whatever way that the community needs,” Valentin-Gonzalez explained. “This is one of our best tools to fight off gentrification, because the more land you have that’s purchased by the community, the more community members you’re going to retain because they’re going to have more income and resources to live an affordable lifestyle.”
For Lucas Cruz, chairman of the Chicano Park Steering Committee and its community development subcommittee, land trusts and homeownership are also the community’s greatest weapons against gentrification.
“Our biggest concern is the displacement of families and the displacement of communities. That loss of community and affordable spaces is huge,” Cruz said. “Here specifically in Barrio Logan there’s a history of fighting back—fighting back against the city, the state—and there’s evidence of those victories. Whether it’s Chicano Park, the Logan Family Health Center, those victories are passed down and inform the community.”
While past outcries regarding gentrification in Barrio Logan and Logan Heights have largely been reactionary and hyper-focused on a few select businesses and cultural hubs, Cruz says they failed to address the larger overlying threat that gentrification poses to the community—that being the erosion of Barrio Logan and Logan Heights residential neighborhoods, which would undoubtedly be the greatest contributing factor to the changes in the community’s character and composition.
Unlike popular businesses, which have established clientele to sound the alarm of their closure, rarely do the individuals who can no longer afford rising property taxes or increasing rent rates have the same support system. Unfortunately, these properties are often ceded silently to the hands of outside entities purchasing real estate.
“Residents are at risk of being pushed out of their neighborhood due to rising rents, unaffordable homeownership, house flippers, and new businesses,” Cruz said. “In order for residents to benefit from the progress they created, and to ensure the long-term affordability of housing in the community, residents themselves need to own the land.”
Ultimately, the residents of Barrio Logan and Logan Heights hope that these new tactics and community awareness will help prevent the neighborhood from being reduced to a soulless, upscale, and ultimately unaffordable neighborhood—yet another playground for the wealthy, like so many other historically working-class communities of color have become. While change is inevitable in any neighborhood, residents will continue organizing to ensure it is they who decide what is best for the community.
Despite the still uncertain future, Valentin-Gonzalez remains optimistic.
“Gentrification is always happening,” she said. “It could be you personally or big developers coming in, or toxic industries trying to displace the community. As long as you’re knowledgeable about what’s happening and aware of how your actions can impact certain communities that awareness goes a long way.”
Roberto Camacho is a freelance Chicano journalist from San Diego, California. He is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Twitter: @Rob_Camacho_SD