September 30, 2007

Revitalization In Action

The Washington Post reports that downtown Los Angeles is now becoming a "hipster heaven," filled with chic restaurants, dance clubs, and, of course, lofts. There's just one little problem:
All this is remarkable because until recently, nobody lived downtown except on Skid Row, where about 13,000 drug-addicted, mentally ill or poor people crash in flophouses, homeless shelters and on the streets. Skid Row remains the supreme challenge for revitalization -- and the source of guilt and rancor as the two downtowns alternatively coexist or collide.

The friction has increased as police have stepped up arrests for drug use and petty crime in an attempt to bring order to the wild open-air dope bazaars and homeless camps.
And how's that working out? The LA Daily News has some additional info. For the past year, the LAPD has flooded Skid Row with dozens of additional officers. According to a recent UCLA study, crime in the area has dropped 40 percent, but it has also increased in the surrounding areas, as the police sweeps push both the homeless and other folks elsewhere. What's more, of the 1000 citations now given out each month, most are for minor infractions like loitering or jaywalking. "Good, good," one might say, "'broken windows' policing in action." Except that many Skid Row denizens can't pay the fine, and then get sent to jail, which in turn makes them ineligible for housing. Not so good.

On the bright side, the mayor says he's "willing to look at" adding more housing and other social services for the homeless, but doesn't want to distract attention from the fact that stepping up law enforcement in Skid Row has worked so well.

P.S. On a slightly different-yet-related note, the city overall has seen a big drop in homicides this year, apparently due to an increased reliance on gang-intervention workers rather than mass arrests and high-profile sweeps by the police. The interventionists, who take pains to distance themselves from the cops publicly, have been particularly successful at "rumor control," that is, "calming tensions after a shooting to prevent retaliation."
-- Brad Plumer 4:11 PM || ||