I am one of the few people in this world for whom Venice is not a travel destination. I grew up here, surrounded by all of the madness and all of the beauty.
My dad, my sister and I joined the Venice community in 1996. Even back then, our barely affordable apartment stood in the shadow of beach-side luxury mansions. However, unlike similar homes in opulent areas of LA, these monoliths of gentrification represented merely the upper echelons of an economically diverse community. Accomplished psychologists lived right next door to impoverished, eccentric painters. Hippies and radicals of all stripes shared the block with well-to-do families. My dad, a humble sound engineer and song writer, lived a few houses away from Wesley Snipes.
Despite their differences, these people shared one thing in common: like my dad, they dared more than just a visit to what was, at that time, a less-than-safe bohemian community. They made themselves a permanent part of it.
Over the last eighteen years, I’ve watched them struggle to preserve the Venice they came for. As our beachy bohemia attracted more tourists every summer, Venice locals fought bitterly to stem the tide of new hotels and amenities that accommodated vacationers at the expense of community members. Like countless other local families, we benefited from their efforts without even realizing it. Had they failed and a hotel showed up right next door, we may have quickly become activists ourselves.
Now many us find that, without any warning, a hotel has indeed showed up right next door. Sites like Airbnb, Homeaway, and VRBO make it absurdly easy to turn any neighborhood space into a tourism commodity. Though these businesses make profit their top priority, the idea behind them is not inherently evil. Some who use these services are merely continuing a long tradition of the couch surfing culture. They invite travelers into their homes for a more human and integrated experience. They take responsibility for their guests, and teach them to be a temporary part of the Venice community. I have never charged a guest for this privilege, but I don’t blame those who do so.
Then there are the others. These others use the internet to turn local homes into year-round hotels. They rent or buy property not so that they can become part of our community, but so that they can exploit it. They reap the rewards of a local culture that they help to disintegrate. My culture. Our culture. Every new home that they convert into a hotel is one less artist, one less actor, one less kind hearted lawyer, one less bohemian banker. One less family. One less kid like me. One less guy like my dad.
Thanks to eighteen years of friendship and participation in this community, I live in one of the few rent-controlled apartment buildings still available to long-term tenants. I frequently overhear my new neighbor, Josh, bragging about the Venice apartment he is “Airbnb-ing” full time. I see him, this-flesh-and blood representative of the so called “sharing economy,” and I know that a time will soon come when I, too, will be fighting off eviction attempts. I know that my wife and I will lose our home.
Unless…unless we can change that story. Unless we can come together and teach the Joshes of the world the consequences of their actions. Unless we can show City Hall the truth behind Airbnb’s billion-dollar PR scheme. Unless we can show them the alienation and suffering that have become our reality. Unless every internet platform that throws its hands in the air and says “I’m just the middle man” takes responsibility for what it enables.
On the day that everyone who calls Los Angeles home wakes up, sees what their city is becoming, and shouts “not here!” Only on that day, will we win back our neighborhoods.
Venice is my home. It is a home worth fighting for. They will not take it from me.