No urban place, even the unincorporated half square mile that is Isla Vista, is safe from gentrification. This development is most clearly seen in IV with new housing additions that include the LOOP and Icon as well as with the gradual spread of large, established companies and restaurant chains like Pizza My Heart and 7-Eleven. As luxurious and convenient as they might be, these developments represent constraints on significant student choices, from where we live to what kind of vendors we can support.
While the stereotype is that we’re all poor college students, there does, in fact, exist in IV a limited market for more expensive and luxurious housing. Companies like Mesa Lane Partners, knowing this, can come in and construct their residences when the right piece of land becomes available. Seeing places like Icon’s success in charging more, traditional housing in IV will follow suit, since there’s clearly some sort of extra money to be made. And when money-making becomes an overarching goal in matters that affect students, I think it’s safe to say that we tend to get screwed over a bit.
On the business side, when small, local vendors—who have a considerable stake in the community—can no longer afford to pay the rent, they often get replaced by larger corporate ones who don’t share the same deep interest in IV. The unique, local vibes of IV get crowded out by bright and shiny corporate ones. On top of that, students are generally limited in their dining mobility; we don’t have the time and transportation to regularly wander out beyond IV for lunch. This means that if we vote with our dollars for our restaurant preferences, we find the ballot a little one-sided and increasingly bereft of IV’s traditional character.
All of the players in this situation have their own motives and goals for coming into IV—least of which, I’m sure, is to intentionally gentrify the place—but the effect is still the same: gentrification within our very limited home. Businesses and developers find an audience where the traditional places we love cannot financially remain and fill in the vacuum. And given that we don’t have the mobility or opportunity to genuinely embrace other businesses and unaffected housing, gentrification becomes inevitable, and we become increasingly stuck with choices we don’t need, don’t want, or can’t afford.
While they are typically more expensive, places like the LOOP do offer accommodations and amenities that go beyond that of the typical IV residence. The LOOP features security cameras and guards, is LEED-certified, has a rooftop deck and gym, and already comes with room furnishings. While a triple for $790 a month may not sound too over-the-top considering these admittedly awesome bonuses, this kind of housing is still a problem for many students. Security in IV isn’t at a worrisome level, especially when we can be smart and take precautions like locking our doors and windows, and we have a huge gym located right on campus in the Rec Cen. Furnishings in traditional IV housing, if residents do need to purchase them, don’t have to be paid for every month, but only when they’re bought. Normal housing’s already satisfactory standard of living may not be quite as high as the new developments’, but most students will not hesitate to admit they’re always happy to save a buck.
The relatively rapid spread of these new developments means that we students are going to be gradually left with fewer and fewer choices for affordable housing, and that those who really need it will have a harder and harder time finding a place in IV to live. While there’s little we as students can easily do in the short term, advocating for greater Isla Vista autonomy in, say, making the town into the proposed community service district, would give residents more power over what developments go on here and give us a voice to go alongside those of the politicians and developers who currently shape the community. Only a fundamental change in the way IV is administered will give residents the opportunity to control these processes.
From a purely aesthetic point of view, gentrification in IV is a pretty cool thing. But the unintended and inevitable consequences it presents to students who cannot afford the luxury makes it an unfortunate reality that places on us additional and unnecessary constraints. The associated loss of our character also helps deprive us of what makes our community so unique and endearing. If we want to do something about a situation that’s increasingly unfavorable to students and to the character of the community, it’s time we really advocate for a proper say in what goes on in our home.