A problematic location

Two things I read this week troubled me.

The first was an article on gentrification by urban ministry practicioner Bob Lupton where he considers how those doing urban ministry should think about the different issues raised by increasingly gentrified urban cores (thanks Anthony Siff at MereMission for this link). Lupton writes:

“Resisting gentrification is like trying to hold back the rising ocean tide. It is surely coming, relentlessly, with power and growing momentum. Young professionals as well as empty nesters are flooding into our cities, buying up lofts and condos and dilapidated historic residences, opening avant-garde artist studios and gourmet eateries. If market forces alone are allowed to rule the day, the poor will be gradually, silently displaced, for the market has no conscience. But those who do understand God’s heart for the poor have a historic challenge to infuse the values of compassion and justice into the process. But it will require altogether new paradigms of ministry.”

The second was an L.A. Times piece (thanks JR Woodward at MereMission) on USC’s urban location and its hopeful synergy with the changing face of a gentrifying downtown.

“For years, USC has struggled with its image as a campus in the heart of the inner city and tried to link its fortunes to downtown Los Angeles, a few miles north. Now, a newly gentrified and hip downtown is marching south, while the university is creeping north.”

The L.A. times article quotes one author saying:

“I don’t know a lot of people who would consider the neighborhood around USC a particularly prime place to live yet. It’s a problematic location. It is still adjacent to some of the poorest parts of L.A.”

We live just down the street from USC. Our church meets one block West of Vermont, the major street that separates USC from “us”. It is my neighbors and their children; it is their community; their businesses and livelihoods that are the “problematic” part of USC’s image and its market hunger for “location, location, location”. And it is the “yet” and “still” that carry the warning: what are we, a church called to love and serve the poor in this city, called and willing to do in response to these trends of displacement? As we contribute (many of us have bought old, historic homes that we are lovingly restoring) to the rising property values and prohibitive rents (we have had people who wish to move into our neighborhood to be a part of our church not be able to because rents are just too high), how are we doing so responsibly and “with justice” as Lupton commends?


  1. I appreciate you taking this article and helping us consider how we are to bring shalom to this neighborhood. I only had time to point people to the article. Thanks for sharing your heart with us about this matter.

  2. I was so grateful for your link!
    This is one of the trickiest issues we face here. As Lupton points out, the return of “gentry” to impoverished communities is a good thing. But how this is done, and at what cost, is something that keeps me awake at night. I know that we have been called by God to live in this place. The question is, what does God’s call require of us for our neighbors? How do we “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly” in the world of real estate? Especially here in L.A. where home ownership is so prohibitive already!

  3. Very thought provoking. Years ago the issue being discussed was urban flight. Those with the means of maintaining the life and economy of the inner city were ‘fleeing’ to the suburbs and were ‘condemned’ for abadoning the poor of the inner city. Now, with this seeming return to the inner city or ‘gentrifying’ it seems that the earlier cry of abandonment should see this as hope. But of course it’s never simply a matter of where the moneyed of a society live, it is how the moneyed and the unmoneyed, the propertied and the unpropertied come together and see each other as real people requiering each others respect.

    Perhaps ministries like yours will find ways to bring the members of different economic strata together and as church find ways to build bridges between these two segments of our society- as the first century church found herself filled with free and slave, rich and poor, male and female, Jew and Gentile.

    My wife and I are moving to Pasadena in a couple of months. I hope we will have a chance to visit your church after we get moved. I’d love to see wht the Lord is doing among you and those you serve.

  4. I will look forward to your visit! Let me know when you are in town and I will get you more info on our church. Best wishes on the move 🙂 Pasadena is a great place.

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