Op-Ed

Can Inglewood survive the NFL and gentrification?

An NFL stadium in Inglewood? Let the town chart its own course

Can it be? After decades of enduring the ignominy of being called Inglewatts and being privately regarded by most of L.A. as a place to avoid, Inglewood is now being touted as Los Angeles' next big thing.

Hollywood loves the upstart story, and Inglewood seems to be it at the moment. Thanks to a confluence of circumstances, chiefly the out-of-the-gate success of the renovated, repurposed Fabulous Forum and the prospect of luring the Rams or another NFL team to Los Angeles with a new stadium across the street from the Forum, Curbed L.A. pronounced my town L.A.'s 2014 Neighborhood of the Year.

The website also noted that Metro's Crenshaw-to-LAX rail line, currently under construction, will pass through the heart of Inglewood and that the artist scene that's always operated here sub rosa is starting to become more visible. Then there are the very reasonable housing prices and Inglewood's convenient location — airport adjacent, less than 10 miles from the ocean, fairly close to downtown, Hollywood and the tonier beach cities of Manhattan and Redondo. Add it all up and Southern California just might have a surprise hit on its hands.

It all sounds great. But as a longtime resident and veteran Inglewood advocate, I have my doubts. For one thing, the success of the old Forum never translated into any real local growth. Before the Lakers packed up and left for Staples Center in 1999, the team had been drawing big crowds at the Forum for 30 years with zero effect on Inglewood's struggling economy and our overall civic fortunes.

That's not surprising, since those fortunes had more to do with white flight and massive disinvestment — essentially the failure of integration starting in the 1960s — than anything else. The favored modern narrative is that the Lakers left and created a local identity crisis that led to bad things, such as the rise of gangs and the decline of schools, but that's a gross simplification. Our identity crisis goes much deeper and much further back than that.

Of course the Lakers were a big source of local pride — I remember the purple and gold City of Champions banners that hung from lampposts, the spontaneous victory parades in postseason — but not much else. At the end of the day, the Lakers, like the Kings and the many big musical acts that played the Forum, came and went, all of them operating in a kind of glamorous alternative universe to Inglewood itself. And city officials didn't do much to close the gap.

Then there's Inglewood's racial stigma, much like Compton's or Watts', a stigma that dictates that all black communities, regardless of the details, are not good places to hang out, let alone live.

But for the sake of argument, let's assume the opposite, that Inglewood is the next big thing and that my town is about to become what real estate people call “desirable,” which means attractive not just to the upwardly mobile, but to upwardly mobile white people. Which means gentrification. That's another term real estate professionals love to hear, but it's code language for racial replacement — property that was once relatively affordable becomes sought after and expensive, and the people who could always afford to live here suddenly can't. People like me.

Gentrification has happened in Silver Lake, downtown, Echo Park, and it's happening rapidly in Highland Park. By no accident, those areas were low-income and considerably Latino, rather than black. Now gentrification is threatening black neighborhoods like Leimert Park — which is also getting a metro stop — and Inglewood. The bitter irony of gentrification, one of many, is that the good, safe, thriving community that the original residents always wanted and worked toward finally seems to materialize once they've left.

I want Inglewood to get the improvements predicted by Curbed L.A., but I want my town to chart its own course, not give away the store to the Forum or the NFL or the Hollywood Park developers or anybody else because it's so anxious for the full civic validation that's eluded us for the last 50 years. And there's hope my Inglewood and not a gentrified version can prevail.

Stan Kroenke, the owner of the St. Louis Rams and the prospective developer of the proposed NFL stadium, made some of his billions building stores for Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart came to Inglewood a decade ago looking to put up a Supercenter on the site where Kroenke now wants to build. The giant retailer tried to sell Inglewood voters on a ballot initiative that would have given it total control of the 60-acre site. Wal-Mart figured on a cakewalk, but voters shocked the world by saying no thanks.

Now that's the kind of development we could use more of.

Erin Aubry Kaplan is the author of "Black Talk, Blue Thoughts, and Walking the Color Line: Dispatches From a Black Journalista." She is a contributing writer to Opinion, and she lived in Inglewood as a teenager and returned in 2001.

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