Last year, as a freshman who lived on campus in the Los Cerritos dormitories, my friends and I quickly learned the bus routes for Long Beach Transit to different places off campus, since none of us had cars at the time and buses were free for students. At one point, we realized that all of the 90’s busses (Routes 91, 92, 93, and 94) all went to the same place: downtown Long Beach via 7th Street. We would use this street to explore different places downtown for food and fun. However, I would never really pay attention to my surroundings as the bus drove down 7th. I would usually be too busy talking to my friends.
This year, when all my friends but me had cars, I was left as the only one to have to use the buses every week when I couldn’t get a ride from them to my internship at Saint Mary Medical Center by downtown. Since I was alone, I was given the opportunity to observe my surroundings more closely. This opportunity arrived just in time because I was lucky enough (and still am) to be in Sean Smith’s UHP 401 History of Los Angeles: Invention of a City class.
How is this relevant you may ask? Well, as I would observe my surroundings, I made a connection to a concept we talked about in class several times. The further we went down 7th Street (the closer we got to downtown), the more “city-like” (and less suburban) the neighborhoods got. In the beginning of the smooth-road bus ride I would pass by some suburban housing with uniform middle-class neighborhoods. However, more towards downtown, as the roads got worse, I noticed more small apartments and homeless people, who tended to be people of color (mostly African and Mexican Americans). Even the passengers on the bus tended to change overall to more colored people with old, tattered clothing and poor hygiene (not necessarily their fault, and I know I am making a generalization, but not too broad of one in my opinion). It also had the more compact city atmosphere of many different cheap stores, as opposed to the more open plazas of stores further away from downtown. All in all, the overall quality of life in the downtown city seemed to be diminished relative to the suburbs. This division between the suburbs and more “ghetto” downtown area (downtown is actually a big area, but I’m referring to the part by the hospital I work at/see) makes sense, as Saint Mary Medical Center specifically caters to local people of lower social class (most of the patients I interact with are of color/from the poorer area), as opposed to the Long Beach Memorial Hospital.
How did this division happen exactly? As we discussed in class for most all cities, the more money people had, the easier it was to have transportation to leave overcrowded, downtown city hustle and bustle. As a result, the richer people could reside in places further from the city (this eventually led to white-middle class suburbs that only they could afford/get), whereas the poorer, colored people were essentially forced to live in the city, where public services like the police and firefighters took longer relative to the suburbs because they weren’t paid as much as a result of lower taxes. I’ve heard many times that the area isn’t safe because of crime, which is almost unheard of in uptown suburbs closer to CSULB and/or the Pike/the Beach. This started in colonial times with horses and carriages, followed by trains, and eventually cars. Nowadays, although many people have cars, gas can still be expensive, so this division can still be seen, although it’s not as prominent. It’s honestly sad that a developed nation like the United States of America still to this day has these social divisions, despite them not being as extreme as the cases of poverty in other developing nations. We should fix this issue (hmm maybe redistribute the wealth from the top 1% to the other 99% maybe? #FEELTHEBERN2016) so as to uphold the constitution regarding promoting the general welfare. One positive things I can take from this (sorry for being an optimist), is that I was able to apply stuff that I learned in this class in real life, which always makes me feel good, as well as appreciate/value my education a lot more.