Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On Rural Land-Grabbing

Our class discussion on gentrification reminded me of the conflicts faced by a small town in LA that I used to live in, called Topanga. It is a gorgeous and green canyon with picturesque scenery. What really brought this place to my mind during our discussion was someone’s comment on how it is not always just urban areas that are subject to “land-grabbing.” Topanga Canyon is an “unincorporated” small community up in the Santa Monica Mountains. This “unincorporated” aspect of the canyon is something that provides its inhabitants with a great sense of pride, since they have fought long and hard to keep the canyon this way. Indeed, many businesses have attempted to plant their commercial trades in the town, only to be met with fierce resistance by the ‘locals.’ So far the townspeople have been primarily successful in evading the county’s various efforts at implanting things like: traffic lights, gas stations, and business chains that would bring in many more tourist-types.

What strikes me as particularly interesting about the town’s ability to thus far limit the influx of commercialized businesses, is the type of people who live here. Originally, Topanga was named and inhabited by the Native American Tongva tribe. Later, it became a romantic getaway for actors and musicians. Ever since it has primarily been home to an alternative crowd of hippie and artist types, with the occasional ignorant redneck. Anyways, what I find interesting is the fact that this dominantly white homogeneous group of people has been successful in limiting the commercialization and exploitation of this beautiful area, when so many other minorities have not been so lucky.

Though I was tempted to suggest that this ability to rebuff outsider attempts at modernizations was the result of some race or class privilege, which it probably is to a certain extent, I now see that it is also largely due to the fact that many individuals who live here own their property. It appears that commercialization of the area will continue to be resisted since businesses would have to buy property from local residents, and since the general mindset of the community is to avoid this type of exploitation.

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