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Income Inequality on Display

June 16, 2015 • Los Angeles

Ming House Chinese Food and International Ship Supply, 5584 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, Calif.This month, Long Beach hosted an open-streets event, where three miles of Atlantic Avenue were closed for a few hours to motorized vehicles for the enjoyment of cyclists and pedestrians. Long Beach Beach Streets was much less crowded than CicLAvia, especially the one that strayed near the Westside, and it was an eye-opening event in ways the organizers probably didn’t anticipate.

Cycling on a street without cars provides an unprecedented opportunity to see things close up. There’s an odd dilation effect, where things seem closer together than when you’re in a car despite the fact that you’re moving much slower. Crossing one street, Del Amo Boulevard, leads from tony Bixby Knolls to have-not North Long Beach, and the differences are breathtaking. North Long Beach is understandably less desirable real estate because it’s directly under the flight path of Long Beach Airport, and Bixby Knolls has lovely hilly areas. But the differences between the two neighborhoods is also based on race and the quagmire that that entails.

Compared to other megacities, Los Angeles is more segregated than New York, but less than Chicago. By any objective measure, though, it’s still far too segregated. There are very few reasonably integrated neighborhoods in Los Angeles, where the ethnic balance is stable. That means most neighborhoods are destined for either gentrification or a slide in the opposite direction. If resources continue to be concentrated in fewer hands, it seems like the only possible outcome.

Atlantic Avenue and the Beach Streets event put both the problem of the evaporating middle class and segregation on display for all comers, and they seem to be linked. A lesson in income inequality was the last thing I expected on a feel-good day of cycling, but in this new gilded age, it seems inevitable that these problems will only be more visible.

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