Photos by Mathew Scott

Lazaro Arvizu

Parks and Gentrification

During the 80s, Downey Recreation Center — one of the few public parks in Lincoln Heights — was inaccessible and uninviting. Still, as the only park in the area, neighborhood kids like Lazaro Arvizu found themselves there often. Located in between the Swiss Dairy Company Plant (now home to the newly built Albion Riverside Park), the Los Angeles River, and some very active train tracks, Downey Park was a neglected glimmer of green in a gray sea of industry.

For Lazaro and his friends, it wasn’t unusual to witness a crime in the park every now and then. Attracted by the trains that would stop by the dairy plant to load and unload, “crews of guys would go over with tire irons and crack open the [train] doors and steal everything.” And, if he was lucky, one of the guys might give Lazaro some milk to take home to his family.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s — when Lincoln Heights caught the attention of developers and outside interests — that Lazaro noticed a change in the way the city viewed Downey Park.

“When they started gentrifying, one of the indicators to me was when they remodeled Downey Park because they didn’t do that before gentrification. They did it during and after. How did that happen? The realtors lobbied for it. They pushed the city, they pushed to get that money, to have it done so that they can have it as an amenity, a reason to raise the rates.”

Gentrification brought about a new, accessible, and inviting space for the community, but the community that would come to enjoy the benefits of an improved Downey Park wasn’t the same one that had lived through years of neglect by city officials. It was, instead, a new community made up of many transplants — folks who could afford to purchase the flipped, million-dollar Victorian homes once inhabited by the working-class residents of Lincoln Heights.

Crime and unkempt recreational areas might’ve hindered Lazaro’s experience at the park as a kid, but in hindsight it seems the true robbers were just about to move in.

Lazaro Arvizu Jr. is an artist, educator, musician, and researcher dedicated to the culture of the first people of Los Angeles. Born in the Los Angeles Basin, he is knowledgeable of the landscape and cosmology of the Gabrielino culture. He has worked for over 20 years facilitating creative and meaningful cultural experiences to people of all ages and walks of life, in many venues.

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