Luiz rides his horse through the city to the Townhouse bar on his day off work.

There Goes the Neighborhood

What’s it like to move into the so-called hottest real-estate market in the country? In this essay, we look at life in a Northern California city as it grapples with extremes of wealth and poverty.
Luiz rides his horse through the city to the Townhouse bar on his day off work.

VALLEJO, CALIFORNIA, WAS NOT Magnum photographer Carolyn Drake’s first choice when she and her partner were contemplating a move from Athens, Georgia. But for the past year and a half, Drake has been documenting life in her new home, a place on the verge of profound change.

Less than a decade ago, the once-industrial North Bay city filed for bankruptcy. Now, in mid-2017, as the tech industry has spread its tentacles across the Bay Area, Vallejo is consistently billed as “the hottest real-estate market in the country” by numerous media outlets. It’s an uneasy mix of boarded-up storefronts and glossy renovations, a place whose contradictions speak to national trends of urbanization and gentrification. For a photographer just getting to know a new neighborhood, there’s a lot to see.

House shopping with Napa River Realty.
Paul does chin-ups on Nebraska Street during his morning walk through the Vista neighborhood, with his dog Mingus patiently waiting.
Colleen with wisteria in her garden.
Barbara, who is homeless, and her twin brother Patrick, who draws when he's bored, in City Park.
Amber, a friend of the photographer, reclines at Blue Rock Springs Park, which looks over the new developments on the northeast side of Vallejo.
Paulette, a neighbor who Drake met at a progressive party, in her garden on Milita Street.
Neighbors across the street: Colleen gives Ed a haircut in their kitchen.
Latrell, former student at Vallejo High, waits for friends at Washington Park after school.
Night view at Colleen and Ed’s house.
Idres (standing) and friends from Richmond, California, waiting for a ride. Police just took their car because Idres doesn’t have a driver’s license.
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A man waters the lawn in the St. Vincent’s Hill area of Vallejo.
Jessica, another neighbor, poses in her bedroom.
House on Marin Street burning after a gas pipe ruptured in a car accident.
Dante and his family members protest on a street near their home after police shoot Dante’s brother, Angel Ramos.
Andrew in the alley outside his shared loft space downtown.
House on Sacramento Street, part of Vallejo’s historic district.
Scene outside an apartment building at Alabama Street and Sonoma Boulevard, one of the few residential buildings in this mostly commercial area.
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