In our several stays within a block of the Venice Beach boardwalk — some for a week, some for a month — this is the first time we’ve visited when I haven’t said, “I love this place. I could live here.” Having always harbored a soft spot for the diversity, color and vibe of California’s hippie enclave, this trip gave me pause.
Horrors! The “Venice Freak Show” has been replaced by a renovated storefront housing a Starbucks! I don’t recall ever seeing a “chain” on the boardwalk. “The beginning of the end,” I remember thinking.
Next, was all the construction. Several buildings have been razed, replaced with fancy beachfront housing.
Will the Venice-Beach-as-we-know-it disappear in a few years? As the week went by, however, I began to think, “Will this evolution necessarily be a bad thing?”
We found ourselves experiencing increased aggravation toward many things we once perceived as quintessential Venice Beach. It wasn’t good.
Gritty has evolved into disgusting. Garbage is everywhere. (Seriously, people. Pick up your trash!) The smell of urine is ubiquitous.
The homeless population has increased dramatically. The odd but harmless are mingled with the creepy and provoking. In the alley outside our bedroom window, a guy bellowed a 30-minute litany of four letter words around 2 am our first night. An irritated neighbor called out, “Hey! You done? If not, I’m calling the cops. Thank you.” We laughed and said, “Welcome to Venice.” Repeat performances on subsequent nights weren’t as funny.
A cardboard shelter was intermittently set up in our car port surrounded by spilled food, wrappers and countless flies. Once interspersed, mounds of random possessions and makeshift tents now line the Venice Beach boardwalk. More than a few high or mentally disturbed souls aimlessly stumbled along the walkway. We witnessed one guy in the middle of a busy street. My heart goes out to these individuals but it’s extremely disconcerting and sometimes scary.
For now, Venice Beach is still the place to be. Come as you are. Anything goes. Bikes, skateboards and scooters dart through the steady crush of tourists, while mounds of random possessions and makeshift tents line the sidewalks. Street artists peddle their creations. Bikini-clad teens pose for selfies in front of make-shift backdrops (donation only $1!). The kitschy souvenir shops are bustling and there are lines at restaurant pick-up windows.
The future? As luxury homes and boutique hotels sandwich their way onto the boardwalk, I think the Venice-Beach-as-we-know-it will be cleaned up and shifted to a dedicated, compacted area. I see it becoming an almost Disney-esque version of itself that tourists will continue to visit. It will still attract its share of “free spirits” and Muscle Beach strongmen. Skateboarders will skate. Surfers will surf. The Sunday drum circle will drum. And you know there will be plenty of shops selling tie dyed “I Love Venice” t-shirts, along with a few token tattoo parlors and marijuana dispensaries.
The change will inevitably result in at least some displacement of the homeless, which flies in the face of Venice’s culture of diversity and acceptance. Many are boardwalk “fixtures” who have been embraced by the community. Can housing, employment opportunities or some form of social services be implemented to keep them in this area they call home? Safety for all is paramount and those with drug addiction and mental health issues need to be treated.
I’m certain we will continue to visit Venice Beach when we come to Los Angeles. I still love the area, especially around Abbott Kinney and the canals. Many of our favorite restaurants are here.
It will be interesting to see how the beach area evolves. Can homed and homeless residents, city government and hungry developers conquer the challenges and still retain some of the character and embracement of inclusivity that makes Venice Beach the “people’s beach?” Will I again say, “I could live here?” Time will tell.