The Divide in Fresno

The Divide in Fresno
Image of dilapidated Hotel Fresno by Hannah Brandt via

By Kathy G. Ayala

Inequalities and its history still linger and resonate within our cities and expand globally. In Fresno, we experience a divide—a division cutting through the city horizontally creating a borderline we refer to as Shaw Avenue.

The tale of two cities begins with the separation of the north and south, which encompasses both the east and west respectively. This imaginary line created by the city and its residents—willingly or unbeknownst to them—has been etched into the asphalt distinguishing its Fresno residents for decades. This divide has constructed categories in both north and south—hierarchical, cultural, educational, by socioeconomic statuses, classes, and labels marking folks as have and have-nots.

On June 3, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin gave her annual State of the City address reiterating what many have known as far as apparent problematic areas and issues faced for years by the city. The mayor’s address covered the city’s progress, her lengthy routine to have hair just right, homelessness, mention of the Blackstone corridor, the city’s updated General Plan, and other topics.

In reference to the city’s divide, Swearengin noted that the areas south of McKinley were once of concern, followed by another northern movement of the border up to Shields. “In 1999, Mayor [Alan] Autry was proclaiming that Shaw Avenue was the new dividing line between stable and deteriorating neighborhoods,” said the mayor. Swearengin went on to say the new division has moved farther north to Herndon Avenue where two-thirds of those living below the Herndon border are living in poverty and in extremely impoverished neighborhoods.

The mayor praised the city for ranking well on lists rating Fresno as a growing city. The town has made the list as the fifth best job-creating city in the state according to the California Employment Development Department, fourth on the list for best job creating region in the world and a top 10 housing market to look out for according to Trulia—a real estate Web site.

“In January of this year,” said Swearengin, “the Brookings Institution published a report ranking the 300 fastest growing metropolitan economies in the world.

“The report indicated that, when comparing job growth in 2014 and 2013 at the metro level versus national averages, Fresno was the fourth-best job creating region in the world with a 4.5% growth rate compared to 1.9% nationally,” she added.

Meanwhile, the city’s unemployment rate has reached 12.2% compared to the state’s rate of 6.5% and 5.4% nationally, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, from 2009 to 2013, 28.9% lived below the poverty level. Fresno also has been acknowledged nationally in the past as an “area among the top five U.S. regions with the highest percentage of residents living below the poverty line,” as reported by the San Jose Mercury News in its article, “Census Shows Central Valley Areas Among Poorest in Nation.”

These reports beg to ask the question, how is Fresno growing economically while a number of residents live below the poverty line—two-thirds south of Shaw, as the mayor pointed out. Where are the jobs and who are these jobs for?

Fresno’s 112,308 square miles is home to an estimated 509,924 persons as of 2013 according to the most recent U.S. Census data, making it the fifth-largest city in the state after Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco.

South of Shaw, residents without homes have created their own for the night with the risk of having them demolished by the city without notice. These newer developments, encampments, have spread beneath the overpass or around the way in the brush to the side of the off-ramp. Homes created from empty boxes that held together a family’s possessions are now used as shelter against Fresno’s dreaded winters and summers. One man’s trash has now become another man’s four walls or the layer between his tired body and the cold or heated pavement.

The mayor addressed the situation of homelessness and was proud to report that there has been a drastic reduction in chronic homelessness of 40%! Tallying up to a 52% reduction since 2013. However, an obvious contrast is present less than two miles away from the mayor’s office near the Poverello House where the streets are saturated with people without a home. Beautification, gentrification, and urbanization take place, meanwhile, those in marginalized areas are left with what they have.

In these areas, blocks are lined by liquor stores and advertisements bombard neighborhoods like tagging by rival crews with images of refreshing beer. The newest burger awaits at the nearest fast-food joint just around the corner next to the row of other fast food restaurants. Areas where a hole-in-the-wall becomes a safe haven where members of a church congregate and pray for blessings, better life, and call for an end to violence in the streets.

Campaigns to bring awareness of the imbalance of resources and inequality have been trumped by the city. In recent events, local nonprofit organizations and members of the community have called upon for change.

Building Healthy Communities has campaigned for the betterment of existing parks and called out the city with outstanding facts. For example, in the 93706 zip code (south Fresno), there is only 1.02 park acres per 1,000 residents whereas the 93720 zip code (north Fresno) has 4.62 park acres per 1,000 residents.

An ad was submitted to FAX that reads: “Your zip code shouldn’t predict how long you’ll live—but it does. Because where we live, affects how we live. Staying healthy requires much more than diets and doctors. We need #OneHealthyFresno with better parks for all. To learn more visit:”

The ad shows a child, whose face is shown in one-half with her natural color displaying a newer play structure with the stat showing North Fresno having 4.62 acres of park for every 1,000 residents. The other half featured in black-and-white shows a fence with an older play structure stating those in the south have 1.02 per 1,000 residents. The ad was set to be displayed on city buses but that was quickly rejected by the city for being “political.” This decision was followed by a rebuttal from organizations asking for further comment from the mayor.

These major inequalities are known in Fresno and affect the lifestyle, opportunities, and upbringing of many, which in turn have an impact on the city’s well-being as a whole.


Kathy G. Ayala is a freelance writer. Contact her at


  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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