Sunday, October 22, 2006

Koreatown in LA.

I haven't posted for a while because end of August I started teaching 5 classes
and then I fractured my elbow October 1. The elbow is nicely healing, but I had a
half cast for a week, which was tiring. Then the cast came off but I wasn't driving
for a 2nd week. I did a lot of walking in my neighborhood, Koreatown, and also
took the bus for two weeks. Actually I enjoyed walking, and will post soon about a Koreatown
walk. The elbow is nearly healed.

Today in the Los Angeles Times there was an article by Gregory Rodriguez called
"Seoul man," also about living in Koreatown. He calls himself a "proud resident
of Koreatown" as I am too! Whenever I'm driving home & start seeing Korean signs
on Western, I know I'm nearly home. Actually, the largest ethnic group in Koreatown is
Latinos, then probably Asians including Koreans and Filipinos, and then whites.
By on the major bouelvards of the neighborhood--Vermont Avenue, Western Avenue,
Olympic Boulevard, and Whilshire Avenue--most of the shops, particulary the smaller
ones, are Korean with Korean signs.

Like Rodriguez, I've been fequenting the restaurants in the neighborhood. Rodriguez
went to his first trip to Seoul. Rodriguez compares Koreatown to Seoul: "K-town is a highly condensed--if slightly shabbier-verious of this thriving, hyper-urban traffic-choked mteropolis."
What strikes me about walking Western Avenue, with its Korean-owned furniture shops dominating, is that it could be attractive street with some landscaping--trees, flowers, benches.
Let's have more trees planted on Western Avenue!

Second, Rodriguez says former LA City Councilman Nate Holden was roundly criticized for granting many liquor licenses to this neighborhood, but Rodriguez says, "According to a recent study, South Korea is the fourth-largest distilled-liquor consumer in the world. In its rigidly hierarchical society, it's clear that drinking is the great equalizer and a national pastime." Rodriguez says that Nat Holden "was merely being culturally sensitive." All I can say is that I went with some friends to a Korean bar-b-que restaurant (very popular). The food was excellent, and enjoyed seeing the food cooked on a little stove at our table. But on this Saturday night I was astounded to see how much hard liquor--whiskey, scotch-- was consumed at the other tables (I only drink wine myself).

What's changed in the last 6 years in Koreatown is house prices have doubled if not tripled. Rodriguez mentions thatg he sat in a seminar at the Grand Intercontinental Hotel in Seoul "where 700 prospective buyers showed to hear a sales pitch for condominiums that will be built only a few blocks from my apartment in K-town. ... According to one executive of the developmental firm, 60% of the units will be sold in Korea to investors who have no intention of moving to L.A.." He goes on to say that in the last few years Korean investors have been investing heavily abroad in Koreatown, causing inflated house and condomium prices. Well, a few blocks near my house three small craftsman 1-story houses have been knocked down, and large apartments to be sold as condomiums are being built.

Rodriguez is right when he says that this Korean investment in LA's Koreatown is globalisation at work "in which capital moves faster than people." 6 years ago when I moved to Koreatown it had less expensive rents and house prices than the surrounding neighborhoods. No longer. This process is not knew. During the 1980s when Tokyo land prices soared Japanese investors bought up a lot of high-rise office buildings in downtown Los Angeles. In the 1990s well-to-do Chinese immigrants bought up houses in Monterey Park area east of downtown. Again, we live on the Pacific Rim, and what happens in Korea, China, or Japan effects the neighborhoods and neighbors in LA.

When I was in Shanghai and Beijing our guides were complaining about how condominium prices are going up and up. I wonder if there is investment from abroad in Shanghai & Beijing. That lives us both in Shanghai and Los Angeles having the small problems: lack of affordable housing, particulary for young couples starting families.


cwm said...

Thanks for the article. It wasn't quite as polished as your usual entries, but i still enjoyed it. I paid close attention to K-Town while i was considering moving to LA this summer and your depiction filled out my sense of the area. My wife and i visited once and i liked it very much, although she wasn't crazy about it. I recall reading recently (in Curbed LA, I think) that K-Town still has the best values for renters in LA. Is that true?

Anyway, good luck with teaching and with your elbow. I'm going to continue reading your blog, even though we've decided to stay in New York for now. You're a very good writer and i feel like i learn important things about LA through your work. thanks for doing it.

by the way, here's another blog that has a lot to say about LA (especially Lincoln Heights): It's one of my favorites.

Lyle Daggett said...

Enjoyed reading this, even if it is kind of depressing to think about rising rents and the erosion of "affordable" housing "whatever that means by now in the world at large). Minneapolis is also experiencing an epidemic of luxury condo buildings, awful ugly things that are driving out all life.

Many years ago an interviewer asked Jonas Salk (the same Jonas Salk who was instrumental in developing the polio vaccine) his thoughts about the chances of finding a cure for cancer. This was sometime in the early 1970's. Salk said something to the effect that he was concerned not only about cancer in individual people's bodies, but also in humanity as a whole. Cancer, he said, represents one part of the body growing without regard for the well-being of the rest of the body.

And ouch -- sorry about your elbow. Hope it keeps getting better.

California Writer said...

As for rents in Los Angeles, I think rents in Koreatown are still a bit less exspenive than West Hollywood and West Los Angeles where rents are very high.

Still Koreatown rents are also going up. To buy even a small apartment in Koreatown now takes much more money.

I also find it interesting, Lyle, that luxury condomiums are going up in Minneapolis. Does that mean in all major cities in China, Japan, and Korea as well as the United States there is lack of affordable housing?