The Identity of West Hollywood
Posted by Roobs on March 18, 2011
As a an eager young politico, I followed West Hollywood’s recent city council election last month with great interest. However, as my previous post may have suggested, I was a little turned off by some of the rhetoric coming from the opposing candidates. I thought the rhetoric implied that the LGBT community in West Hollywood was a monolithic group all moving the same direction with the same tastes and preferences.
As it so happened, my final report in a physical planning class I am taking at UCLA offered me an opportunity to explore a question I have had since moving to West Hollywood in August of 2010. I could sit and argue that there is another group, another community in West Hollywood that was being ignored in this grandiose messaging but I could not prove it. My final report for my class was on precisely that. I sought out to prove that there are, in fact, two distinct communities within West Hollywood as evidenced by the physical environment.
I have pasted a clip from my introduction below. Please feel free to download my report (15mb). Critiques and counter-arguments are welcomed.
You can download my full report here. Please note that it is a 15 MB pdf file.
A city can have either a singular or multiple identities, usually dependent its size and the diversity of its population. The City of Los Angeles, for example, is vast and very diverse with many neighborhoods establishing their own unique identity. From Little Tokyo to Compton and from Little Ethiopia to West LA, each neighborhood has an identify that distinguishes them from others. But what about smaller, less diverse cities?
The City of West Hollywood has existed for only 25 years. Once an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County, “WeHo” (as it is known), has established a reputation as the gay-mecca of Southern California. Like the Castro District in San Francisco, WeHo strives to serve as a home to gay men and women. The cities official efforts have always touted its gay friendly bone fides. West Hollywood was the first city in the country to adopt same-sex domestic partnership ordinance for all residents and city employees.
In March of 2011, the residents of WeHo were asked to vote on three open city council seats. Three incumbents fought in an unusually heated campaign against three opponents. The opponents ran on a platform hitting hard at the changes affecting the city. Specifically, challengers argued that WeHo was losing its identity as a home for LGBT men, women and youth and that the existing incumbent councilmembers were caving in to developers who were out pricing the young and gay. In essence, WeHo was becoming “less gay”. But how gay is West Hollywood to begin with? Is there another community sharing or fighting for recognition in this small Southern California city?
Conclusions of the Report:
- West Hollywood is not a monolithic entity and has two distinct districts and communities: An LGBT District and a Russian District.
- A Buffer District exists between the two that faces neglect of investment.
- The LGBT District enjoys the most attention from City Hall and arguably the most investment with beautiful street-scape fostering a great deal of pedestrian activity.
- The Russian District is smaller by comparison but offers the historic side of West Hollywood with many family owned stores and its own unique street-scape.
- The Buffer District is tailored towards the automobile and towards non-city residents and lacks continuity.
- Unique identities are not bad in of themselves but not at the expense of the overarching identity of the city. Planners and politicians should work to foster interaction between communities and avoid their isolation.
Roobs is a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles pursuing a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning with concentrations in Transportation Planning & Policy and Urban Design & Development. Roobs is a former Waterfront Commissioner for the City of Berkeley and graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in Legal Studies and Sociology. Roobs worked as a clerk and paralegal for 5 years at the firm, Katzoff & Riggs in Emeryville, CA that specialized in real estate development.