I sat down to watch the legendary skateboarding documentary and Sundance Film Festival Award winning Dogtown and Z-Boys last night. I was totally blown away by the West Coast Dogtown and its parallels to Manchester.
The Dogtown area of South Santa Monica and Venice California is Manchester’s West Coast equivalent. Labeled as downscale, gritty, and a blighted neighborhood, the West Coast Dogtown is eerily reminiscent to Manchester’s rough around the edges reputation. And it isn’t a coincidence that the street artists, non-conformists, and creative types flock to both Dogtowns. It is in these out of site, out of mind areas that true artistic creativity flourishes.
While I grew up with a Tony Hawk skateboard as a kid, I was a little too young at the time to fully appreciate the pioneers of 1970s skate culture. Dogtown and Z-Boys tells that awesome story. The Zephyr skateboarding team invented modern skate culture giving the art its graffiti laced style and urban edge. The group essentially took surfer moves where style was everything, and applied it to skateboarding.
During a drought of the the 1970s, the Z-Boys took full advantage of empty Southern California swimming pools and started shredding. That move elevated the group to rock star status. The now famous Tony Alva photograph below showed the first time someone caught air above the lip of a pool with their board. Essentially, there would be no modern skate culture or X-Games were it not for Dogtown and its Z-Boys.
Can Manchester Retain Its Grittiness?
Richmond’s Manchester has that same urban grittiness and creativity that allowed skate culture to flourish in Santa Monica. Manchester has long been an artistic, industrial, and creative hotbed. But the area is changing as new residents arrive and development continues to occur. Old warehouses are turned into apartments. Once vacant storefronts covered in graffiti are getting fixed up and put back into service. Rents and home prices are sure to rise as a result.
Given that dynamic, it’s only a matter of time until someone shouts out the “G” word. And by “G” word I mean gentrification. Gentrification is a double edged sword, not doubt about it. With new residents, fixed up buildings, and new businesses, come jobs, amenities, food options, and services that aren’t currently available. But all those benefits tend to also bring increased rents and increased home values along with them.
Luckily for Manchester, the area is awash in affordable housing options. The income restricted apartments and new houses virtually dominate the area. This is in large part driven by the enormous swath of RRHA properties in the area and low income apartments built and operated by developers such as Genesis Properties, Fountainhead Properties, and others. One might even argue that the enormous concentration of low income housing has gone too far by creating a monoculture rather than a diverse, mixed income population. But that is starting to change…
We are beginning to see a growing number of luxury apartments and townhouses hitting the market. The recent duplexes going up in the residential district are approaching half a million dollars in value, and are selling quickly. The 7 West townhomes are approaching a million dollars a pop. Time will tell if all the existing low income and income restricted housing remains that way given this dynamic. Some of it might be converted to market rate housing over time.
My hope is that Manchester retains its grittiness and artistic edge so that it remains a creative hotbed. Just like the Dogtown of the West Coast where a bunch of free thinking kids invented modern skate culture, Manchester is where Richmond’s young artists and creatives live. It has also been home to a large African-American and Latino population for decades. But Manchester also needs to welcome new residents and encourage fixed up buildings, new jobs, food options and an increasing tax base that comes with it. Those are also good things. But so is affordable housing. In essence we need both so that art, culture, diversity, and stable jobs can coexist. Said differently, Manchester needs balance. Only then will Manchester remain unique and authentic. Without it, Manchester runs the risk of becoming the same cookie cutter development that is ubiquitous these days.
Here’s to hoping we can push Manchester forward into 2018 and beyond with a sense of balance in mind.
Photo Credits: Skate Culture