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What Will Los Angeles Look Like in the Post-Immigrant Era?

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Los Angeles is a city shaped hugely by immigrants, but today *there are fewer and fewer immigrants arriving—what will that mean for the LA of the future? That was the question on the table at last night's second Third LA panel, held last night in the second-floor ballroom of The Line hotel in Koreatown. Hosted and conceived of by Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, the discussion focused on post-immigrant Los Angeles; the idea that today's LA is, for the first time, primarily a city of natives, rather than newcomers. After briefly introducing the concept of the "third Los Angeles"—the post-suburban city LA is slowly becoming—Hawthorne cited this statistic: only 5 percent of Angelenos under 18 are immigrants themselves, but more 60 percent have at least one parent who is.

"[Immigration] is dramatically tapering off," said Manuel Pastor, professor of sociology at USC. "We are … coming to the end of the demographic process." That tapering off, however, does not signify the tapering off of immigrant influence on the city. Assimilation is out; first and second generation Americans are today "trying to understand the culture they're from," as Pastor put it.

Architect Christopher Pak, who also sat on the panel, is the perfect example. Son of Korean immigrants, Pak is responsible for the Aroma Golf Range in Koreatown. It may be strange to some, seeing a driving range wedged between high-rises on Wilshire, but to Pak and other Korean-American Angelenos, it's simply how things are done. The same goes for the enormous signs crammed full of Hangul all along Olympic: "It's a direct influence of how [Korean immigrants] view urban life in [the] city back in Seoul," said Pak. "It's something they were familiar with."

Koreatown was held up as a positive example of where the third Los Angeles is headed. Hawthorne called it "the densest [neighborhood]," and "the most layered, in terms of its demographics." Pak emphasized the appeal of the district's centrality and access to transit, especially to a younger generation uninterested in following their parents out to the exurbs. "I see Koreatown, Downtown, and Hollywood really meshing to be that […] one identifying symbol of who we are as a city going forward," he said.

But development is a tricky issue, especially when tied up with immigrant populations. Pastor, sociologist that he is, reminded the audience that "trajectories [of upward mobility] that immigrants had in the past […] have increasingly disappeared," and that Los Angeles is today "one of the key capitals of working poverty in America."

Most first and second-generation Americans simply do not have the economic power to compete with middle and upper-middle class suburbanites, and as Millennials continue to flood back into the city, displacement of non-white residents becomes a very real issue. Pastor highlighted Highland Park as an example of a community at risk of losing is historic identity ("All the Latinos are like, '¿Qué es 'vegan?'") to what Jan Lin, professor of sociology at Occidental College, termed "white return." As we've seen with York Boulevard, these things happen fast. Revitalizing neglected corners of the city is generally good, but the culture that made these neighborhoods what they are in the first place—creating "the magic of these places," as Pastor put it—can disappear overnight. Development without displacement, the panel agreed, is a large part of the solution; how we get there is anyone's guess.

The city changes, as it has, as it will. Los Angeles is massive and frustrating and strange, unlike any other urban environment, and we wouldn't have it any other way. Kelema Moses, professor of art history at Occidental, summed it up best. "It's not New York," she said. —Ian Grant
· Third LA [Official site]
· Dramatic Before and Afters From York Blvd.'s Gentrification [Curbed LA]