Nestled between Santa Monica and Marina del Rey, Venice is a Los Angeles community filled with apparent contradictions. There, people of various races and classes live side by side, a population of astounding diversity bound together by geographic proximity.
From street to street, and from block to block, million dollar homes stand near housing projects and homeless encampments; and upscale boutiques are just a short walk from the (in)famous Venice Beach where artists and carnival performers practice their crafts opposite cafés and ragtag tourist shops. In Venice: A Contested Bohemia in Los Angeles, Andrew Deener invites the reader on an ethnographic tour of this legendary California beach community and the people who live there.
In writing this book, the ethnographer became an insider; Deener lived as a resident of Venice for close to six years. Here, he brings a scholarly eye to bear on the effects of gentrification, homelessness, segregation, and immigration on this community. Through stories from five different parts of Venice—Oakwood, Rose Avenue, the Boardwalk, the Canals, and Abbot Kinney Boulevard— Deener identifies why Venice maintained its diversity for so long and the social and political factors that threaten it. Drenched in the details of Venice’s transformation, the themes and explanations will resonate far beyond this one city.
Deener reveals that Venice is not a single locale, but a collection of neighborhoods, each with its own identity and conflicts—and he provides a cultural map infinitely more useful than one that merely shows streets and intersections. Deener's Venice appears on these pages fully fleshed out and populated with a stunning array of people. Though the character of any neighborhood is transient, Deener's work is indelible and this book will be studied for years to come by scholars across the social sciences.
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February 10, 2011
Just read the free sample on Kindle. Some interesting descriptions, and/but interwoven with academic analysis.
On the northern end of the park, retired African American men sit at picnic tables playing dominoes and reminiscing about the way things used to be. Younger black men in their twenties and thirties congregate by the fence near the picnic tables, listening to music played from cars parked in the street. One of the young men moves away from the group toward a slow-moving vehicle driven by a middle-aged white man and holds a small bag out in the open during daylight hours without even trying to disguise his action. After making an exchange, the car speeds off and he returns to his friends.
Formerly part of a massive operation on many street corners throughout Oakwood, the drug distribution ring has been steadily pushed by LAPD officers into the vicinity of the park, where surveillance cameras now monitor every move. Only a few of the young men engage in illicit activities, but the friendships between dealers and nondealers have complicated histories, as many grew up together in Oakwood and family members have known each other for decades. On the opposite end of the park a different type of lawlessness takes place: newer residents—white men and women in their thirties and forties—let their dogs dogs run off their leashes, disregarding a city ordinance that restricts this activity and runs at cross-purposes with the interests of older residents whose children and grandchildren also use the park to play.
[two pages later]
In contemporary Los Angeles, the static classifications that have historically guided sociological interpretations of urban neighborhoods as rich or poor, black or white, ethnic or Wasp, and working class or professional do not consistently hold. How should we label Oakwood: Is it a black, Latino, or white neighborhood? Is Rose Avenue a skid row for the homeless and the down and out, or is it a middle- and upper-income residential locale? Should we interpret the boardwalk as an up-and-coming shopping district, a free attraction for the masses, or a space of economic opportunity for the most destitute? Furthermore, how did the Canals and Abbot Kinney Boulevard, neighborhoods once deemed as centers of cross-cultural contact, become more exclusive when they are located directly on the boundaries of these other highly diverse spaces?
Just as we have to be careful not to automatically adopt static classifications of distinct neighborhood public cultures, we have to be careful not to oversimplify the place of gentrification in the process of neighborhood change.
We can certainly see the everyday performances, housing infrastructures, and iconic representations of wealth in all five of the neighborhoods making up this study, but the pathways of neighborhood change are not empty conduits between central power holders, local neighborhood groups, and any given set of neighborhood conditions. Wealthy developers, influential architects, new retailers, and new homeowners are present in this discussion about urban change, but not in a way that makes these adjacent neighborhoods look the same. Venice has emerged over the last four decades as a coastal community in extremely high demand where everyone wants a piece of the property, from longstanding African American residents and bohemians to homeless men and women, Latino immigrants, and wealthier homeowners.