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The Artwashing of America

GENTRIFICATION IS REMAKING THE CITIES OF THE WORLD, FROM LONDON TO JAKARTA, BUT ACTIVISTS IN EAST LOS ANGELES HAVE DECIDED TO FIGHT BACK. THEIR GOAL: KILL THE ART GALLERIES

THEY KNOW the end is near, which is why the young men and women of Boyle Heights have taken to the streets with such fury, clad in bandannas, hoisting placards that leave little room for com-promise. They’ve been charged with promoting violence and anti-white racism, and they don’t care. They’re in a desperate fight to keep this rise of land on the East Side of Los Angeles from becoming the next Silver Lake or the next Echo Park, formerly Latino neighborhoods overtaken by glass condominiums full of white people who have come from Beverly Hills, or maybe the hills of Arkansas.

Many of the young men and women nurse bitter memories of Chavez Ravine, a Mexican-American enclave forcibly cleared to make way for Dodger Stadium. Almost nothing remains of it 50 years later, and maybe nothing will remain of Boyle Heights either in a few years, except perhaps a plaque in Mariachi Plaza timidly describing what this neighborhood once was, before the beloved El Tepeyac restaurant became a vegan smokehouse, or just an empty storefront.

MI CASA NOT SU CASA: Small gallery owners priced out of West L.A. by exorbitant rents have started colonizing abandoned warehouses in the city’s east side, which includes many Hispanic communities.
STEVE SALDIVAR/LOS ANGELES TIMES; PREVIOUS SPREAD: LIZ O. BAYLEN/LOS ANGELES TIMES

And what of the people who now live there? Of the neighborhood’s 92,000 residents, 94 percent are Latino, 33 percent live in poverty, 76 percent rent, 95 percent do not have a four-year college degree, 17 percent are undocumented immigrants. Where will they go? Angel Luna, a 24-year-old activist with Defend Boyle Heights, knows: “Fucking Victorville,” the poor, arid plains east of Los Angeles.

There is no “Victorville” outside of London, but the residents in that city’s formerly working-class neighborhoods like Shoreditch and Brixton are victim to the same forces moving with blitzkrieg speed toward East Los Angeles.

“ WE DON’T WANT NO YUPPIE FLATS. WE ARE HAPPY WITH OUR RATS.”

They are not dissimilar from the forces of nationalism now resurgent across the West, pitting a global, techno-luent elite against less-skilled underclasses intimidated by cosmopolitan culture, with all its shows of wealth and sophistication. Gentrifying neighborhoods—whether deep in Brooklyn, New York, or on a hillside of Rio de Janeiro—are where those forces clash. Such clashes have become so frequent that The Guardian has an entire online section titled “Gentriied World,” chronicling conlicts in Montreal, Moscow and Jakarta, even post-industrial Birmingham, once England’s motor city.

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THE DOCTOR WILL SEE YOU NOW Now, startups are applying artificial intelligence (AI), floods of data and automation in ways that promise to dramatically drive down the costs of health care while increasing effectiveness. If this profound trend plays out, within five to ten years, Congress won’t have to fight about the exploding costs of Medicaid and insurance. Instead, it might battle over what to do with a massive windfall. Today’s debate over the repeal of Obamacare would come to seem as backward as a discussion about the merits of leeching.
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