MODERN LIFE Guerrilla gardener movement takes root in L.A. area
BRIMMING with lime-hued succulents and a lush collection of agaves, one shooting spiky leaves 10 feet into the air, it's a head-turning garden smack in the middle of Long Beach's asphalt jungle. But the gardener who designed it doesn't want you to know his last name, since his handiwork isn't exactly legit. It's on a traffic island he commandeered.
"The city wasn't doing anything with it, and I had a bunch of extra plants," says Scott, as we tour the garden, cars whooshing by on both sides of Loynes Drive.
Scott is a guerrilla gardener, a member of a burgeoning movement of green enthusiasts who plant without approval on land that's not theirs. In London, Berlin, Miami, San Francisco and Southern California, these free-range tillers are sowing a new kind of flower power. In nighttime planting parties or solo "seed bombing" runs, they aim to turn neglected public space and vacant lots into floral or food outposts.
If you can afford it. The condos cost about $700 a square foot, meaning a nice two-bedroom condo -- with windows on two sides and great views -- runs about $1 million.
A few evenings later, I found myself in the cramped living room of a single-family home in a suburb of Ventura, one of about 180 houses built a decade ago for buyers with annual incomes of about $50,000. Because the original development was federally subsidized, the homeowners can sell their house only at a restricted sales price of $300,000 to $400,000, which is 20% to 40% below the market price.
The cap on the selling price, the homeowners told me, has brought some changes to their neighborhood. It allows the working poor to afford these houses by teaming up to buy them. Realtors say four, five, even six people are listed on mortgage titles to qualify for financing. Seven, eight, nine cars are parked in the driveways and on the streets in front of the houses.
What's going on here? For a century, people in Southern California moved to the suburbs as they got richer, leaving the more "urban" parts of town to poor people. Now that pattern has reversed itself. Affluent people are leaving the suburbs to live in the city, while the working poor -- people who have jobs but don't earn enough to exceed the poverty line -- are doubling and tripling up in the suburbs to buy houses.
The migration of the affluent to the inner city has gradually increased in the last three years. According to a study by the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, the household median income of downtown residents with a least one earner was about $99,600 a year in 2006, roughly $28,000 higher than that of Beverly Hills. Nearly half of those surveyed reported annual income of $100,000 to above $250,000.