GOOD

Mixed Messages

Walk through L.A.'s organic (and illegal) mixed-use communities.


\n
Every three months, GOOD releases our quarterly magazine, which examines a given theme through our unique lens. Recent editions have covered topics like the impending global water crisis, the future of transportation, and the amazing rebuilding of New Orleans. This quarter's issue is about cities, spotlighting Los Angeles, and we'll be rolling out a variety of stories all month. You can subscribe to GOOD here.

At 7:30 a.m. in East Los Angeles, women in sweatpants stand around in front of Naty’s house. The sun is just starting to bathe the neighborhood in golden light as Naty and her two employees haul out goods and place them on the front fence, on picnic tables, and on garment racks. Everything here—clothing, shampoo, toys, and electronics—is new, and nothing costs more than $5. On the two days a week that the “shop” is open, neighborhood folks wait to see what new merchandise Naty has to offer.

Naty has been doing this for the five years since she arrived in Los Angeles from Durango, Mexico. A single mom to two young daughters, this business is her sole source of income. Sociologists would call her work “entrepreneurship by necessity” since she started the business when she was out of options, and, indeed, Naty is a savvy and hard-working businesswoman. There’s just one problem with an enterprise like hers: It’s illegal.

It’s often said that Los Angeles is one big suburb, a city that’s not really a city, and there’s truth to that. When the first farmers and grove owners expanded beyond the downtown Pueblo in the mid-19th century, they set up plots at significant distances from one another. At the end of the century, as old rancho lands were subdivided into city blocks along new railway lines, neighborhoods developed without a real plan for urban density growth. The outcome: Single-family neighborhoods spread out across a major metropolitan area.

That combination makes Los Angeles unique among the country’s big cities. And while it may have seemed a bucolic fantasy a century ago, L.A. now faces the same challenges as any major metropolis, like poverty and immigration. Those things bump up against the concept of a residential nirvana in at least one phenomenon on clear display: businesses, like Naty’s, that operate on front lawns.

Most of these enterprises are in East or South L.A., which makes sense. These are immigrant neighborhoods of Mexican and other Central American extraction populated by residents who come to the United States with meager job prospects and very little capital. As Ivan Light, a UCLA sociology professor, explains, self-employment is higher in immigrant communities than non-immigrant communities for a simple reason: “If you can’t get a job, you have to start a business. So people do it.”

In these trying economic times, businesses like these flourish. Clothing shops, tire stores, car washes, driveway taquerias, and a wooden planter business are just a small selection of the vast range of front-lawn enterprises in Los Angeles. And the amount of money the businesses bring in varies as well. Some provide their proprietors with no more than $10 or $15 per month—just enough to buy milk and tortillas—while others generate several hundreds of dollars per day.

Naty falls into the latter category. She goes in on pallets of new goods with nine other women who live nearby; each operates a front-lawn business at a different spot in the neighborhood. Naty’s success has a lot to do with her location. Because she has four schools around her, mothers stop by on their way to taking the children to school and then as they walk back home. In the afternoon, when they pick up the children, they pass by two more times. So though she spends $500 on a pallet for a day, she ends up selling about $700 worth of goods, leaving her with $200, out of which she pays her employees and a babysitter.

Mixed use is exactly what business owners like Naty have created—just not in the way planners envision it.

\n

Naty pays taxes to the city every year based on sales, but she is still in violation of its zoning laws. She isn’t allowed to have more than one resident employee, or to change the “character” of the residential neighborhood by making it look commercial. The city doesn’t have the resources to patrol all 496 square miles of land, so violations like hers are enforced on a complaint basis.

A pretty, polite woman who wears big hoop earrings and rhinestone-studded tank tops, Naty explains how one of her friends has been shut down and another has received the first of three written warnings (a precursor to fines). So far, Naty has received only verbal warnings. “Many people bother us, asking why the yard is like this. Or the police tell us we’re not supposed to do this,” she says. “But I don’t steal, nor do I ask the government for help, nor for welfare. I try to make my own living, and the city doesn’t understand that.”

But while she may be doing right by taxpayers, the way city laws are set up, Naty rankles traditional shopkeepers. She competes, after all, with business owners who have followed the rules. Cecilia, who runs a neighborhood market on a commercially zoned street near Naty’s house, says, “We have to pay taxes and get permits in order to work legally. We have to pay bills, lights, water, everything. Many people who work outside don’t have a permit and don’t pay. So they get to save all that money, and we can’t.”

Perhaps zoning laws could be altered to accommodate both those businesses that do have capital investments and those with very little overhead that are nonetheless important parts of local economies. It’s not as though zoning laws haven’t been changed before. The original rationale for zoning was to separate uses, thereby preserving the character of residential neighborhoods and ostensibly the value of the houses in them. But today, says Alan Bell, deputy director of planning for Los Angeles, the city wants to promote mixed use in commercial zones in order to create dense, livable neighborhoods.

Mixed use is exactly what business owners like Naty have created—just not in the way planners envision it. Bill Fulton, a planning authority in Southern California who is also the mayor of Ventura, says that while he understands the desire of planners to preserve the character of neighborhoods, “character is in the eye of the beholder.”

For example, it was long frowned upon in Southern California to have fences around front lawns. But in East L.A., those fences create social spaces where people celebrate, meet, and talk. So, he says, urban planning folks have become more tolerant. “As the U.S. becomes more immigrant, more ethnically diverse and more working class,” Fulton says, “we need to come to terms with the fact that we may not be able to maintain all those rules that emerged to create this pristine, middle-class suburbia.”

From Bell’s perspective, “It’s an interesting policy question as to [whether] we would want to permit more businesses beyond what we currently allow in single family zoning.… It certainly is a valid question going forward, as to what should be the character of these kinds of neighborhoods.” But in order for the rules to change, there would have to be people clamoring for it, which, as Bell points out, isn’t happening.

That may be because the people who would benefit most from a change to the laws don’t know they have recourse to address it. Even if they did, though, planners like Fulton concede they have no idea what a mixed-use residential area would look like. No one wants neighborhoods to devolve into run-down, potentially dangerous areas with declining property values. So, would business owners like Naty have uniform wall units for selling things, to help keep neighborhoods looking neat? A design-approval board for front lawns? Such are the 21st-century quandaries for innovative planners to ponder.

This story was funded with the support of GOOD and the community at Spot.Us

Image credit: Ed Ruscha, 1984, "City With the Jitters", oil on canvas, 36 x 40", 91x 102 cm (c) Ed Ruscha

Articles
via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

Communities
via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

RELATED: Alan Turing will appear on the 50-pound note nearly 70 years after being persecuted for his sexuality

Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

Lifestyle

Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet