Culture-led downtown regeneration or creative gentrification?
American cities are turning to culture-led regeneration (sometimes referred to as ‘revitalization’) strategies that embrace the ideas of the creative class and new urbanism. As they do so, patterns of commercial gentrification are hitting downtown districts. This chapter is based on a four-year case study, which examines a highly contested culture-led regeneration project in a city that has been dubbed one of the United States’ most ‘Mexican’ communities. Drawing on review of archival documents, media documents, interviews, participant observation, and a survey of downtown businesses, we examine debates across two urban regeneration projects in a downtown district that has historically accommodated Mexican working-class immigrants in Santa Ana, California. A salient finding is that regeneration has created intraethnic and class debates, particularly among the all-Latina/o city council and advocates for the city’s predominant Mexican working-class and immigrant population. Another finding is that regeneration has created creative-class businesses and amenities in and around the edges of the downtown district. Despite the regeneration effort, the downtown district, as a whole, has maintained its Mexican working-class and immigrant identity. We conclude by suggesting the emergence of a significant public policy discourse around culture-led regeneration.