The rampant gentrification of Eagle Rock and Highland Park is one of the most talked about issues in Los Angeles over the last decade and it continues at a breakneck pace. “Taking Back the Boulevard,” a new book from Occidental College Professor Jan Lin, not only documents the current situation in these two adjacent neighborhoods but it tells a bigger story of the artists and activists that have called Eagle Rock and Highland Park home for over a century. The key question of the book that its narrative centers on is: “Will the streets of Northeast L.A. remain a place for immigrants to pursue their American dreams as gentrification continues to unfold?”
The title of the book refers to a number of methods of “taking back the boulevard.” Initially the term came from a campaign of the Eagle Rock Association called Take Back the Boulevard (TBIB). But in the book, “taking back refers to the social agency of people who take to the streets to oppose unwanted urban development, gentrification, and the accompanying eviction and displacement, gentrification, and the accompanying eviction and displacement process and demands for housing rights.”
Lin celebrates the social agency and heroic efforts of programs including TBIB, and groups such as the Northeast Los Angeles Alliance (NELA), the Occidental College Students United Against Gentrification, Friends of Highland Park and the LA Tenants Union to take back their boulevard and hold on to their neighborhood even in spite of market forces and the efforts of carpetbagger developers and emerging transplants. He spotlights a litany of strategies these groups are using to fight gentrification in order to create “a more socially just, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable urban future.” Lin knows all of these groups because he lives in the area and he has been a participant-observer in the processes he writes about.
The book’s subtitle outlines further its larger purpose: “Art, Activism and Gentrification in Los Angeles.” The text examines the evolving built environment along Figueroa and Colorado Boulevards over the last 100 plus years to meticulously document the history of Highland Park and Eagle Rock’s historic architecture, their patterns of development, their shifts in migration, the residential succession, the rise of community movements and most recently, waves of gentrification. Lin’s account mixes his 20 years of field experience in the area with quantitative research using street- and community-level experiences of neighborhood transition to document the shifts.