This post continues my Field Methods series, which I started last year and left off with “Sailing Across the Ocean to Catalina Island“. For our next assignment, we learned how to “drift” through downtown Long Beach (DTLB). While I had been to DTLB a couple of times before, this was my first time to really see and explore all of DTLB. This trip also marked the end of the physical geography side of our assignments, much to my relief. See my previous posts in this series to see how the past assignments nearly killed me (heatstroke, bugs, seasickness, and things falling on my head).
While this assignment mainly focused on DTLB, we actually visited two different locations in Long Beach. The first was Second Street in Belmont Shore (an area of LB). Second Street is known for its many shops and restaurants that cater to a more upscale community, particularly those who live in East LB, which is know for being the area that has mainly well-off white people. My research group and I wandered up and done the street as well as in the shops, to analyze the landscape and how we felt within the landscape. One of the questions we had to ask ourselves was, “Did we feel excluded or included by the types of shops and people that occupied the area?” as well as how the landscape itself affects how people interact with it. Yes, very scholarly, I know.
After we had explored all of Second Street, we hopped on the bus to DTLB and performed much the same tasks, except that we applied the “drifting” method as we wandered around the area. This method is defined as follows: “A part of […] psychogeography is the concept of drifting (dérive) where one travels through an area without a particular destination in mind but is also conscious of the environment and the way it changes as well as looking at why certain areas draw or repel people (Debord 1958).” So in essence as we wandered around DTLB, we examined the landscape and why we were attracted to go along certain paths into certain areas and why we didn’t wander along others.
Outside of the scholarly aspect of this, it was a fairly easy and simple assignment that allowed me to explore more of an area I had little familiarity with and see how landscapes even within a confined area can change quite quickly and dramatically. I went through high rise condos and hotels to the public library frequented by the homeless population, to residential areas that sat behind tall business buildings and schools with suspicious parents (I was constantly taking pictures for my report). I found a beautiful old church that led to a small farmer’s market and then met with banks pressed up against, expensive restaurants and cafes.
To learn more about “drifting” or just find out what I thought of the areas I visited, read my report below. There are also photos you can view scattered throughout the report.
The following comes from a report I wrote for the research assignment for November 2014.
Landscapes are places where cultural and social expressions take form through the physical environment, providing a ‘way of seeing’ (Winchester and Rofe 2010). Thus, landscapes can be a form of textual analysis and read or decoded to discover cultural and social meanings as well as the history and struggles over certain places (Winchester and Rofe 2010). Landscapes are also symbolic and are filled with signs that can establish place meanings (Cosgrove 1989). There are different types of landscapes, including dominant, alternative, residual, emergent and excluded (Cosgrove 1989).
Dominant landscapes are those controlled and created by groups with power that is maintained and reproduced through multiple levels and to such an extent that it is taken to be the norm and a reflection of reality (Cosgrove 1989). Alternative landscapes are not as visible and are created through subordinate cultures, which can seem dominant in certain areas but are always subordinate to the national culture (Cosgrove 1989). Residual, emergent and excluded landscapes are forms of alternative landscapes (Cosgrove 1989). Residual landscapes are ones where only a small portion or none of its original meaning remains, such as old, derelict places (Cosgrove 1989). Emergent landscapes are the opposite of residual, as they exhibit new cultures, but they can also be fleeting and leave little mark on the landscape once they are gone (Cosgrove 1989). They can also be a vision of a possible future dominant culture (Cosgrove 1989). Excluded landscapes are ones whose presence is no longer visible, such as emergent landscapes that eventually disappear or landscapes of gender (female culture) and race (minority groups) (Cosgrove 1989).
Psychogeography is “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals” (Debord 1955). Thus our surroundings and environment can affect how and why we move around areas in certain ways and the emotional affects these areas have on us. A part of this psychogeography is the concept of drifting (dérive) where one travels through an area without a particular destination in mind but is also conscious of the environment and the way it changes as well as looking at why certain areas draw or repel people (Debord 1958).
In using both landscape analysis and drifting, my research questions are as follows. For Belmont Shore on Second Street: how does an upscale commercial strip exhibit different types of landscapes; what types of people are found within these landscapes and what, if any, affects do these landscapes have on the people who frequent (or do not frequent) them? For downtown Long Beach, what types of places/atmospheres are observed at first glance versus what is seen when examined further; what types of people frequent certain areas of downtown and what, if any, affects do these areas and their geographical and social/cultural constructions have on the people observed in certain areas? For both places, I also consider my own reflections and emotions, examining how I was affected by certain constructions of the landscape and environment and how these constructions also affected my perception of the area and people.
Second Street is located in Belmont Shore, which is a neighborhood of Long Beach (Figure 1). Belmont Shore has a population of 33,354 with 16,263 males and 17,091 females (Point2homes 2014). The median age is 42.02 with 9,298 married and 16,268 single (Point2homes 2014). The total number of households is 17,966 with 1.85 people per household (Point2homes 2014). White collar workers total 6,403 with blue collar workers totaling 4,517 (Point2homes 2014). As for education, 313 have no high school, 705 have some high school, 4,911 have some college, 2,263 have an associate degree, 8,702 have a bachelor’s degree and 6,639 have a graduate degree (Point2homes 2014). The median household income in 2011 was $88,177 compared to Long Beach, which was $51,214 (City-data 2014). Whites account for the majority of the population with Hispanics second and all other races accounting for a small minority (City-data 2014).
As for businesses, Second Street is known for its shops and restaurants, which are a part of the Belmont Shore Business Association (BSBA 2014). The Belmont Shore website lists businesses in three main categories: food and drinks, shopping and services. Each main category had several sub-categories, which listed each business (BSBA 2014). The Belmont Shore website also lists events, one of which took place on the day of this study, that being the Trick or Treat Halloween event for children.
Downtown Long Beach is located in Los Angeles County at the end of the Los Angeles River and next to Long Beach Port (Figure 2). It has a population of about 30,000 with a median age of 30.8 in 2013 (DLBA 2014). Those under 18 years old accounted for the biggest population at 23.33 percent while 25 to 34 year olds accounted for second highest at 20.52 percent (DLBA 2014). The total number of households is 12,796 (DLBA 2014). Residents with some college or an associate degree was 31.13 percent and those with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 27.09 percent (DLBA 2014). Those with a household income of less than $15,000 was the highest at 17.91 percent and second highest was those with an income of $35,000 to $49,999 at 17.63 percent (DLBA 2014). The average household income is $56,448 (DLBA 2014).
The residents live in about 12,800 housing units with 79 percent being rental housing units and there is a plan to add 670 more rental units in the future (DLBA 2014). Prices in housing are increasing both for single family homes (53.7 percent) and condos (47.1 percent) (DLBA 2014). More than 33,095 work there with transportation and warehouse industries accounting for the largest employment (37.6 percent) due to proximity to the port (DLBA 2014). The highest employed age group is 30 to 54 year olds with those under 29 years old being second most and the majority of employees are male at 51 percent (DLBA 2014).
Downtown Long Beach has 1.3 m sq. ft. of ground retail space with 37 percent in the food/beverage/entertainment category, 37 percent in comparison shopping (women and men’s apparel, electronics, supermarkets, etc.) and 26 percent in convenience shopping (nail and hair salons, dry cleaners, pet shops, etc.) (DLBA 2014). There are 3,255 hotels in three categories, upscale (2,101), mid level (810) and economy (344), which accommodate visitors to the many attractions located nearby, such as the convention center, Aquarium of the Pacific, Queen Mary and so on (DLBA 2014).
For Second Street, I examined the area based on different types of landscapes. My group started at the easternmost end of Second Street across from Bay Shore Avenue. From there we walked westward on the north side of the road and took notes via paper and pen of differences we observed in the landscape. We also discussed how walking around there made us feel and I took photos of various businesses and people to record more information of what I saw. We stopped in three businesses to get a better understanding of what types of things were being sold as well as what types of people these businesses were trying to attract. We continued all the way to the end of the street at the corner of the bakery called Babette’s Feast and then crossed the street to the south side where we started to walk eastward, observing those businesses. We did not make it all the way down to end but got about halfway before we had to leave.
For downtown Long Beach, we observed the area based on psychogeography and used the drifting method. Both of my group members are very familiar with downtown Long Beach because they both work there, so I was chosen to lead the drift because I had the least familiarity, having been there only once before. My group members elected to do this because they felt that if either one of them were to lead, they would have had an agenda to go to certain areas over others, whereas I was lead more by curiosity. I wished to see both places I had been to before to see what they were like now, and to unknown places because they seemed interesting. We again took notes by pen and paper and I took photos as well.
We started at the bus terminal on First Street, walking east until we reached the Promenade where we turned right (south) and then turned right again (west) onto Ocean Boulevard (Figure 3). We continued straight down Ocean Boulevard until we got to the World Trade Center where we took a detour to see a group member’s place of work. We then exited out the back of the World Trade Center and headed up Maine Avenue (north) till we reached Third Street where we turned right and headed east. We stayed on Third street till we came to Pine Avenue where we turned right, heading south and then finally turned left (east) onto First Street back to the bus terminal.
Figure 3: Map of route taken in downtown Long Beach.
While walking down Second Street I observed several changes in the landscape and atmosphere. Starting from Bay Shore Avenue, there were not as many businesses and I only saw one white woman walking in the area. There were two long established institutions, such as the fire department and the library at Claremont Avenue. There were some closed down shops (Figure 4) and one building under construction. What I clearly did not see were any homeless people.
Starting form Pomona Avenue, the landscape and atmosphere changed as there were more shops and people and the area looked nicer as well. Since it was Halloween, I saw some people in costumes. I also saw a greater mix of retail businesses and restaurants. What stood out was the large number of skin care, facial and hair/nail salons that seemed to be nestled in between all the other businesses (Figure 5). My group and I counted 10 nail salons and 10 hair/beauty salons. I also noticed that these salons tended to be employed by Asians while by this point it was very clear that whites are the dominate (consumer) group for all the shops along Second Street. I only saw two black people, both of whom were in coffee shops. The Coffee Bean is also where I saw two Asians, one working and the other a customer. There were no Mexican families. The coffee shops, unlike most of the other shops, were all chains.
The people were well-dressed and groomed and the businesses were all very upscale boutique types. The newer restaurants tended to have outdoor dining and were mostly occupied by people with dogs (people with dogs seemed very common there). I did spot one empty shop on Laverne Avenue, but it had actually just moved down the street. I also saw that there were three Open Sesame restaurants located on the same side of the street, two of which were located on the same block with only two businesses separating them. I found this very strange and ridiculous. Another unusual sighting was a Jack in the Box on the corner of Covina Avenue (Figure 6), which seemed out of place among such an upscale shopping strip. A Legends restaurant was one of the biggest and most prominent buildings and clearly stood out among the rest of the small mom and pop type shops.
There were two post offices, one of which was on Granada Avenue and also a UPS store. I saw several banks/financial institutions, such as Chase, Bank of America, Farmers and Merchants and Schools First Federal Credit Union as well as ATMs. There were also two places were one could sell gold for cash. There were a few fitness/gym places, which were not chains. An interesting visual landscape contrast was an old and a bit rundown looking Ace Hardware store located next to a trendy new restaurant called Urban Table (Figure 7). This constant visual/architectural change in the landscape seemed to be prevalent on Second Street, creating these almost mini-landscapes among the bigger, more general upscale boutique one.
This area also seemed to be very sustainable transportation friendly with buses, bikes and walkability. There were lots of fun-shaped bike locking places on the sidewalks and special bike lanes along the road. I even observed a group of bicyclists on Roycroft Avenue (Figure 8). There were also lots of hiring signs on shop windows for the holiday season and a sign about the Trick or Treat event, taking place later that day. Babette’s Feast differed from other places on Second Street in that it had a parking lot visible from the road whereas other places might have parking behind the business, thus making it somewhat difficult to find.
While walking through downtown Long Beach I observed how the area changed and how those changes affected the way I drifted. The starting point of my drift was the transportation hub where only buses can pass through. While walking east on first street, I saw the bike station, which stood out among the surrounding buildings because of its bright and unusual architecture and the greenery around it. Walking south on the Promenade, I saw a tall black building (Opus Bank) that had a Starbucks conveniently located on the ground floor.
On Ocean Boulevard, I saw many tall buildings, most of which seemed to be hotels, business-related or upscale apartments. One thing that stood out was the Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery (Figure 9), which sat at the corner of Pine Avenue. It broke up the monotony of impersonal tall buildings.
The next thing on Ocean Boulevard that stood out was the public library at Pacific Avenue (Figure 10), which looked small and flat next to all the other buildings. The appearance of it was very old and rundown. The architecture almost made it felt like a fortress or bunker. This area had many homeless people, unlike the rest of downtown, which did not. Right across from the library were some very new and upscale-looking apartment buildings, which provided a very stark contrast against the library and homeless population. Past the library, the tall buildings returned and the area became quite empty again.
Near the end of Ocean Boulevard, the World Trade Center stood out as the last very tall building and this happened to be where one of my group members works. We went inside to take a quick look and then continued on with the drift. Exiting out the back side of the World Trade Center was a parking lot and the big, shiny new courthouse. This stood across from the Cesar Chavez Elementary School (Figure 11), which is on Maine Avenue and also right by the 710 freeway. The school had a strange red cylinder on top of it. Walking alongside the school, it was evident that it was built for safety and protection with everything walled in and big locked doors. The parents eyed my group with obvious suspicion, especially since I had a camera.
Past the school on Third Street was a quiet neighborhood and small apartment buildings. The place looked old and somewhat rundown especially as I progressed down Third Street and newer, bigger apartment buildings began to take over. There were also a few historic buildings, such as the First Congressional Church of Long Beach, which is celebrating 100 years. At Cedar Avenue, there was a farmer’s market being held in a parking lot (Figure 12), which was overshadowed by a mostly torn down building. This area had lots of people, mainly for the farmer’s market. Past the market at Pine Avenue was a distinct change in the area from quiet residential to busy commercial. Going south on Pine Avenue, there were lots of upscale restaurants, much like what was found on Second Street in Belmont Shore. Halfway down Pine Avenue, was First Street and thus a return to the starting point of the drift.
Second Street on Belmont Shore exhibits both a general dominant landscape of wealthy white consumer culture, but it also holds many smaller landscapes of varying cultures within the dominant one.
The dominant culture was evident all along Second Street, not just by the types of people occupying the spaces (wealthy whites) or the prices of the stores (exorbitant) but also by the types of stores. The large amount of skin care, facial and hair/nail salons as well as fitness places speaks of a culture that is obsessed with image and physical appearance but also has the time and money to be obsessed with it. Such places seemed more geared to women (30s or older) with disposable incomes. The presence of people with dogs but more importantly the action of taking the dogs to restaurants and on shopping trips in general, seems to be a form of white privilege in that places are built to accommodate such a desire (outdoor seating) and that those with more income and free time will spend more effort on their pets and treat them in special ways. The prevalence of small mom and pop shops promotes a local community feel, thus striving for a sense of belonging yet still giving off a form of exclusion to others (Figure 13).
Obvious excluded landscapes were ones of homeless people and Mexican families. The majority of wealthy white residents in the surrounding area tends to mean that actions are taken to keep the homeless out of the area in order to provide a sense of safety and comfort as well as cleanliness. The types of shops and especially the prices would be a reason that Mexican families, which tend to not have large incomes, are not present in this landscape. Unlike the homeless, who would be actively removed from this area, the atmosphere of Second Street creates an invisible barrier for Mexican families and other such minorities; an unspoken feeling of “you do not belong here” is prevalent in the landscape. This feeling of exclusion can perhaps provoke negative feelings in the excluded groups, such as anger, sadness and feelings of inadequacy.
Even I, a (half) white woman felt that I did not truly belong here, mainly because of my social and financial status. I felt like I was “faking it,” walking here and going into some shops like I was an actual potential customer, yet with no intention of buying anything and quite shocked by the prices of some stores, such as O’ My Sole (Figure 14) where shoes were hundreds of dollars. It made me quite aware of my sub-status, but at the same time I felt somewhat guilty because of how I was not intending to support small businesses, something which is a big trend now and promoted as the good thing to do in today’s society.
As I sat in one of the coffee shops and reflected on how the area made me feel, I came to realize that there is a difference between being “in place” (as opposed to out of place) in an area and the feeling of belonging. One can feel in place in an area where people look and talk like you and think you are essentially like them as well but that does not mean you really belong there. Belonging is a deeper sense of inclusion, one that goes beyond appearances to a form of complete acceptance where both you and the other people of the area feel comfortable, knowledgeable and trusting of one another; where pre-defined social constructs allow one to truly engage with the community and landscape without even effort or realization that this is a different area, tailored to specific notions of society and culture.
Residual landscapes were also apparent here in terms of both older places, such as the Ace Hardware store, the fire department and the library and in terms of a shift from retail places to restaurants. The Ace Hardware store, fire department and library all have an almost historic feeling to them. The fire department and library are almost excluded in a way by being located at the end of the street away from the active center and their meanings/purpose of public service starkly contrasts with that of the private commercial dominance of the street. The Ace Hardware store almost seems to have a feeling of desperation, clinging to what once was as it becomes surrounded by new places, such as Urban Table and other modern-style restaurants.
Emergent landscapes are evident in the shift to trendy restaurants. While the shift from retail to restaurants may not be apparent at first, there is a feeling that the new culture of Second Street may become one of upscale eateries as many of the new businesses are restaurants. This seems to show a change in people’s spending choices, preferring to spend money on good food rather than on other things (except perhaps for hair/nail salons). This seems especially true when one restaurant, Open Sesame, can have three locations all within blocks of each other. Despite this growing change, a possible dominant culture of upscale eateries does not mean that the retail sector will become residual or excluded. The patchwork appearance of the Second Street landscape seems to promise that whatever changes occur will be in line with the dominant population’s desires as they are the ultimate deciders in how and why landscapes form or fade.
Downtown Long Beach
Downtown Long Beach is a place of many faces, where the atmosphere and ambiance is constantly changing with each street one passes. There is much diversity in downtown, but there is also conflict as these places vie for dominance. Where one goes can be affected by how the downtown is arranged, as in which places and paths invite or discourage.
The placement of the transportation hub in almost the center of downtown, next to places such as the bike station, upscale apartments and restaurants seems to be no coincidence, creating easy access for residents and visitors alike. The uniqueness of the bike station and the surrounding greenery of the little park were the most inviting areas I saw on my drift. Those areas broke up the monotony of greyness and buildings and drew me in more than any other places. Curiosity though drove me toward the tall buildings along Ocean Boulevard. The Opus Bank building with its black exterior seemed to say, “Move along; nothing to see here,” with a presence of serious business. This part of the Promenade was clearly a street simply to be used as a means to get from point A to point B.
The majority of Ocean Boulevard with its hotels and business buildings does not feel uninviting but also lacks a particular draw outside of viewing the interesting designs of the buildings. The architecture of any downtown is always meant to be an attraction and a statement of the city’s power and financial status, but a downtown’s atmosphere can be far more than just tall buildings (Figure 15).
Ocean Boulevard’s general openness does create a path of least resistance; I felt no barriers when walking through the area, which is why I continued to go straight down it. The public library though had the least appealing look about it in comparison to the surrounding buildings. The presence of the homeless could also cause a moment of pause and discomfort because of society’s negative perceptions of them. In this case, it is not the urban arrangement that causes one to avoid particular areas but a societal belief about a group of people. What allows certain groups to occupy particular urban arrangements is also tied with who owns what places and what they think about certain groups of people. Private businesses will not tolerate the homeless, but a public area might be less aggressively controlled. One may even feel that they are entering someone else’s (the homeless) territory and so should avoid it or move quickly through it.
What comes first and what is built after also plays a part in how and why different paths and atmospheres come together in subtle and not so subtle ways. The abundance of new (and mostly vacant) apartment buildings seems to tower over the library and the homeless. These apartments show the city’s desire for a new vision and thus a push toward the gentrification of downtown. This same quiet battle between the old and the new was also evident along Third Street as the older homes and apartment buildings farthest from the center of downtown gave way to newer ones closer to downtown’s center. This area was also easy to walk through, but there was a feeling of trespassing, which seemed to be brought on (for me at least) by the suspicious looks of the parents at the school and the quiet suburban/resident feel of the area around Maine Avenue and Third Street (Figure 16). It made me very conscious of the fact that this area is for the residents while visitors such as myself should not really be there. This case and the one concerning the homeless seemed to show that in downtown there are less barriers per say but rather places that repel, not necessarily in a negative way but in way that state ownership and belonging of an area.
The atmosphere of Third Street changed twice quickly. First was the presence of the farmer’s market and second was the start of the commercial section of Pine Avenue. The casual and relaxed atmosphere of the farmer’s market provided a local community feel, which was lacking in the rest of downtown. While the market did not look particularly appealing, the ambiance generated by the people working and shopping there was easily a draw for anyone walking by if on curiosity alone. The liveliness of the commercial section of Pine Avenue was also attractive as it created an inviting and exciting feel, at least in contrast to the quieter parts of Third Street. The similarities between Pine Avenue and Second Street show that upscale eateries and shopping can to some extant be part of more inclusive landscapes or urban arrangements. Those places can be more accessible to diverse groups of people, depending on the proximity of other sections in the area.
Landscapes can be very telling in regards to understanding society and different cultures whether they are dominant or alternative ones. The creation and types of landscapes present along Second Street are in essence a reflection of both dominant and alternative cultures of the surrounding residents. The presence of residual and emergent and even excluded landscapes show that dominant landscapes are almost always only a part of the whole landscape. In other words, landscapes like society and culture can be varied and dynamic. The lack of a homeless population or certain minorities tells who is in charge and what they want. The types of buildings speak of the purpose of the area (shopping, grooming or food) as well as who prefers those types of establishments. The feelings of both being in or out of place and belonging can affect how one perceives and acts within the landscapes. Thus seeing beyond the landscape can not only tell one how it affects others but also oneself.
Drifting through a downtown can show how the urban arrangement, created by society and culture, can affect where one goes and why one choses to enter or avoid certain areas. Factors such as the presence of new or old buildings, the types of people, such as the homeless, or the purpose of an area (residential versus business) can dictate how one sees and interacts with the area. The seriousness or liveliness of a section can determine how one feels at that moment and how one might view the adjoining section of the area. When drifting and discovering different atmospheres, it can be both easy and hard to see the transitions, certain paths will be easier or harder than others for different people and each person will feel slightly different about different atmospheres. Thus drifting is not just an example of physical constraint by the urban environment, but also an emotional one because of how and what types of meanings, beliefs and feelings associated with the physical urban environment can or cannot be invoked in a person.