This is the second post in a series following the 2018 America’s Future Summit: Unlocking Potential, Advancing Prosperity. David Favela, CEO of Border X Brewing, spoke at the event on a panel titled Moving Up, Not Out. You can view the program book from the event, which includes the day’s agenda and speaker bios, and watch the event recording. A white paper exploring various challenges and solutions discussed during the summit will be released later this year.
Gentrification is one of the biggest issues facing Latino communities across the US today. The proximity of our Barrios to an emerging entertainment urban core, office buildings, and jobs is a powerful magnet to waves of outside investors who gobble up the beautiful Victorians, Craftsmen bungalows, and even the shotgun shacks. Remodeling and restoring these homes bring in outsiders who increase rents and drive out low-income residents. Funky little shops, cute cafes, and galleries soon replace the mercados and bodegas and the last remaining residents feel like strangers in a strange land.
But does it have to be that way? Over the last four years, Border X Brewing, located in historic Barrio Logan, sought to find that balance between revitalizing our historic Barrio while honoring the people and groups who have called this home for more than a century. We identified a few critical ways to change “Gentrification” to “Gente-fication,” or people-focused development.
The concept of Gente-fication started as soon as I began working on our tasting room. Long-time residents out for morning walk would stop and watch me as I went about building the small tasting room. At first, they were suspicious, but once they got to know me, they would share stories. “See that old Victorian? All seven of my brothers and sisters were born in that building!” “See that theater, Pedro Infante sang there once!” While it slowed my work considerably, I developed a deep appreciation for the history of the Barrio and the original residents.
When the time came to decorate our brewery tasting room, I reached out to local artists who covered our walls with beautiful Chicano artwork. The highlight was having a talented young artist, Joaquin Junco Jr., paint a historic mural of the history of Barrio Logan, local artists, activists, and other local characters. Not only was it done beautifully, but when the community came out and saw people they knew and loved on our walls, it was clear that we were building this space for them. Honoring local residents, traditions, and culture is critical to counter-act the alienation residents feel when businesses show up that clearly are not aimed at them as customers.
“Gente-fication” also involves collaborating and supporting other community members as they build unique and complementary business. In Barrio Logan, the original trinity was Mexican craft beer, delicious tacos, and an innovative art gallery. Together, we formed a critical mass that brought in thousands of people for weekend events, packing our sidewalks and creating a sense of excitement that filled the air with electricity.
Within a year, the empty storefronts on our block began to fill out with more art, coffee shops, a new restaurant, a record shop, and art studios. We formed a non-profit called the “Logan Avenue Consortium” to help us coordinate a bi-weekly summer lowrider cruise and culture festival at the end of summer that is becoming one of the largest and most unique in San Diego. We did it our way, with a Barrio flair and style that no other neighborhood could create, and we brought in friends, family and neighbors, encouraging them to create new businesses. Gente-fication is about making business development a grassroots affair, putting the community in the driver’s seat and creating an economic model that empowers and enables community members.
In gentrification, the community feels as if it is under attack from stronger economic forces beyond our blocks, but in Gente-fication, the community has nurtured and supported grassroots companies that are growing stronger and scaling beyond the Barrio. The original three businesses have gone on to win multiple awards, including best art gallery in San Diego. The taco shop is now expanding to two new locations in San Diego and Border X is expanding to Los Angeles. Our barrios can and should be “incubators” where community support and hard work from business owners create companies that not only compete effectively but scale into new markets, creating more jobs and opportunities for all.
Gente-fication and local, grass roots entrepreneurialism are but a small part of the overall struggle against the worst aspects of gentrification. Education, access to capital, low-cost housing, and community organizing are critical elements in coordinated response. However, creating a critical mass of barrio-based businesses must be part of any plan. If city planners, non-profits, and financial institutions only focus on low-cost housing, they are missing the opportunity to activate the cultural and economic engine of any community, like Barrio main street. At Border X Brewing, we believe there is a middle path, but it takes creativity, art, passion, and a ton of hard work to make it real. We are extremely happy to be a part of this incredible, unique, and proud community called Barrio Logan.