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Mapping LA

February 21, 2009


guadalupeAfter providing the ultimate example of cutting of your nose to spite your face by doing away with the California Section—a supposed money-saving move that could only be thought up by a “local” paper which answers to an office in Chicago—The Los Angeles Times has turned around and given its city the new Mapping LA project. This new addition to is a collection of interactive maps featuring the boundaries of the city of Los Angeles’ 87 neighborhood—as according the Times’ staff. The maps are certainly informative, especially to someone like me who has only been living in the area for half a year. But the wonderful thing about the project is that it allows readers to comment on the supplied maps and to create their own alternatives, stretching the blue boundary lines out or in by a few blocks or past a certain freeway according to their own understanding of the neighborhoods they call home. Browsing through the maps, comments and border rebuttals will quickly do away with any non-Angelinos belief that LA is nothing but a one gigantic suburb masquerading as a city—these may all be Angelinos, sure, but their neighborhood pride easily rivals that of the inhabitants of the five boroughs on the opposite coast.

The most heated debate—one that predates the Mapping LA project, but has been reignited since it went online—is over the boundaries of the Eastside. Not to be confused with East LA, the unincorporated area east of the city limits, the Eastside, as defined by Mapping LA and supported by the local blog LA Eastside and KPCC’s Patt Morrison, consists of the Boyle Heights, El Sereno and Lincoln Heights neighborhoods—essentially all of Los Angeles that lies east of the LA river. The controversy, as I understand it, started with the gentrification of neighborhoods like Echo Park and Silver Lake. These new-ish hipster enclaves—the West Coast’s answer to gentrified Williamsburg and, more recently, an ever-expanding swath of Brooklyn—began being referred to as the Eastside in order to not be associated with the more posh and well-polished Westside. East Hollywood, a much more apt description of the neighborhoods, seems to be avoided for similar reasons. The bloggers at LA Eastside have definitely been the most vocal in their defense, calling out the similarly named Eastsider LA—and Echo Park resident—as a fraud and holding a “ritual burning of some fake ass “eastside” shopping maps.”

Before checking out the Mapping LA site I had always thought of the Eastside as being the neighborhoods east of Downtown—which is relatively close to what the Eastside defenders define at the Eastside. I had heard more expansive references to the Eastside as well, including Silver Lake and Echo park—both west, except for part of Echo Park, of Downtown—and had wondered myself why they were referred to as such. There certainly is a difference between the Westside and what Mapping LA calls “Central.” Silver Lake and Echo Park have their own vibe, their own style that flies somewhat in the face of Hollywood. But as these neighborhoods continue to be gentrified, they’re tending more and more toward the Westside. When a “dive” bar like the Short Stop, on Sunset in Echo Park, has a line down the block and bouncer at the door on a Saturday night, its about time admit that the jig is up. The True Eastside, on the other hand, is one of my favorite parts of Los Angeles. Completely unpretentious and full of sense that they are living and breathing as a whole community instead of a collection of individuals living in close quarters, what Eastside residents are defending are neighborhoods in the truest sense of the word.

After humiliating themselves with such poor, online “journalism” as the story about Tupac’s murder, which they were forced to apologize for after reports arose that the sources quoted were false, its good to see the LA Times is finding ways to utilize the internet that benefit the community the paper serves. While their print edition continues to flounder—it is arguably the poster child for the current plight of print-based media—Mapping LA is the kind of interactive, web 2.0, community-driven digital content that could very well be the future for such institutions. If they must go through with cutting the California Section, a move that has been met with considerable resistance from citizens and politicians alike, they will have to come up with more online content in a similar vein in order to keep the paper rooted in the city from with it takes its name. If it can’t manage to do that, then they might as well start placing Chicago Tribune newspaper dispensers on every corner in the Southland.

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