The fact that some L.A. Times readers have treated the newspaper's attempt to map 87 Los Angeles neighborhoods as an act of capricious gerrymandering shows how fluid and volatile are our notions of community boundaries. Angelenos typically cry foul over boundary slights when their addresses, by falling on the wrong side of some socio-economic Mason-Dixon Line, lower their home value. (Valley Village vs. North Hollywood, Valley Glen vs. Van Nuys, etc.) The response to the Times' project, however, really seems rooted more in personal identity than anything else -- the agonizing realization that people might think you live in Westlake rather than Echo Park, for example.
Speaking of Westlake, the very first error that caught my eye was
the misspelling of MacArthur Park as "Macarther Park" -- a cartographic glitch that
others were quick to note, but which was actually inherited from the Google map that the Times used. (After first blaming the Times, I've been informed that this problem was Google's doing and could not be edited out.) More important, the mere articulation of
Westlake's borders seemed to renew the unease that many people who live
or drive in the no man's land due south of Echo Park Lake feel when
they are called on to define that vague area. Shouldn't it really be
considered Echo Park, Rampart or Temple?
An email to the Times by Robert Petersen sums up everyone's sense of confusion:
fact that whole area off Temple between Alvarado and Beaudry is tough
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to label. I know some people will say Historic Filipinotown for the
area near Alvarado and Temple-Beaudry for the area near Beaudry. But I
don't think there is a great consensus on what to call this area."
The nice thing about the Times' maps is that, unlike real gerrymandering, these boundaries are still negotiable between readers and the paper -- all you have to do is write in.