Local Activism Online and in the Built Environment: Activist Networks in the Affordable Housing and Gentrification Debate in Boyle Heights

Authors: Ashley Hernandez*, University of California, Irvine
Topics: Urban Geography, Communication, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Community Development, Gentrification, and Urban Politics
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Marriott Ballroom Salon 3, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Boyle Heights is a working-class immigrant neighborhood in Los Angeles where strong resistance to gentrification is present. Collectively, residents and community-based organizations (CBOs) struggle to influence development in the neighborhood, ensure an equitable distribution of resources, and expand affordable housing. However, resistance appears to be intensely fragmented between different groups as they pursue contrasting strategies to address these issues. One growing strategy involves insurgent activism. This consists of a coalition of resource-poor activists and grassroots CBOs engaging the debate with contentious tactics pushing their anti-gentrification and targeting gentrifiers (e.g. coffee shops, galleries) online and offline. Their goals lie outside traditional channels of local politics and market driven urban development as they demand direct democracy in urban planning. The insurgent groups even target professional CBO’s, claiming that they promote gentrification.
Resource-poor organizations are interpreted as internally fragmented, unsustainable, and less influential compared to more professionalized organizations. Yet, this anti-gentrification campaign created by grassroots networks is successful in sustaining a concrete understanding of who belongs to the community and whose rights to the city merit greater protection than others. Using Facebook and interview data collected from local activists, this research focuses on the iterative framing processes in developing a collective identity. Such processes help activists interpret the threat of gentrification, construct meaning around threat through networks, and maintain a sharply defined identity. As demonstrated through this case, framing and identity formation occur through activist interactions both online and through direct contact. Together they contribute to direct action in the built environment.

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