Friday, June 15th, 2007
I had previously posted a commentary on gentrification. One of the comments that came in was a few weeks after the posting and I just now got around to noticing it. I thought it was worth re-publishing here.
Since my initial brief comment I’ve meant to come back and post a more detailed reply, as I think there is definitely some good stuff here, and it definitely got me thinking.
First off–I applaud you for succinctly stating the hypocrisy inherent in many’s criticisms of gentrification. As I put it to folks here in Denver, what if Thornton (a largely white suburb) started restricting the number of blacks that could move in, would that be acceptable? Of course not, but I actually had a neighborhood association grant application come across my desk stating that our organization would know they’ve been effective “by the limited number of white faces in our neighborhood.” No kidding.
A couple other thoughts–First, about “love thy neighborhood but not thy neighbors”–I agree to a large extent. I live in urban Denver, and we have a couple neighbors that clearly moved into the city to just shorten their commute, and because they got a “cute” house–I think they likely would rather our ‘hood be just like the suburbs but close to town.
We, however, moved into the neighborhood as much for the eclectic mix of cultures as we did the architecture of our old Victorian. We got married in Mexico, have lived much of our lives in the desert southwest, and have a soft spot in our heart for much about the latin culture.
We actually despise a lot of things about the suburbs–the homogeneous homes, the lack of interaction with your neighbors, and the lack of diversity. For us, we were excited at the prospect of having African-American and Spanish-speaking neighbors to help us re-acquire our foreign-language abilities, and to keep us from becoming too sheltered in our thought processes, as I think can happen in the white-bread suburbs.
However, now that we’ve been in our neighborhood a while, certain things are causing our unconditional love to wear thin–The litter, drunks smashing bottles on our street, people urinating and defecating in public, having to park a block away from our house because the family next door has 10 people and five cars for their 900 square foot home, and the fact that our neighbors have their swamp cooler propped up on their front porch on two discarded car tires and a random amalgamation of scrap wood.
So for some, myself included, our love for the neighborhood starts out complete, and includes our neighbors, but after dealing with these issues over and over, it’s just human nature in my opinion to at some point wish more responsible, or ultimately, more affluent people moved in. Personally, I wish the more affluent incomers were African American or Hispanic to maintain the diversity, but that never seems to be the case.
Which brings me to my other point, relevant to your comment about why developers don’t redevelop with minorities wants and needs in mind–Personally, I don’t think it matters how you redevelop these neighhorhoods, the minorities won’t come back. I don’t know if it’s because African Americans and Hispanics associate these old neighborhoods with the poverty they used to embody, or if it’s actually a case of the “implicit bias” that Sampson and Raudenbush described in their studies rebuking the Broken Windows theory–where they claimed to have found that even minorities correlate the level of disorder in their environment with the percentage of residents that are black or Hispanic. I don’t know what the reason is, but again, it only seems to be young, affluent whites that are buying historic homes here in Denver and fixing them up. Most of the more affluent African Americans seem to be moving to Park Hill and Stapleton. And trust me–Our neighborhood is still on the affordable side of Denver gentrification, and there aren’t any conveniences in our neighborhood yet–We’re waiting for a Walgreens, Starbucks, ANYTHING other than a liquor store, so it’s not like the neighborhood has been so caucasian-ized that it’s beyond appeal to African Americans.
So to me, maintaining the diversity of these urban neighborhoods is a challenge for more reasons than just gentrification and displacement.