When I think of the conversations that arise regarding gentrification I find it perplexing because by definition it is a process of renovation of deteriorated urban neighborhoods by means of the influx of more affluent residents (Wikipedia definition).
Why can’t this be done in a way that includes helping those who live there benefit from a more thriving community as well?
In my life, I have witnessed how gentrification has changed some communities but the people who originally made up the community seldom benefited. It was always the businesses coming in to save the community that benefited. Even then, the influx of “jobs” they were supposed to bring often did not particularly aid those who lived there.
Maybe my thoughts are quite simplistic on why or how some neighborhoods that once were ignored are now deemed valuable. It sometimes seems it is easier and more economical to displace people from what may be the only home they have ever known then it is to improve infrastructure that supports the community. Usually the neighborhood has cried out for assistance, but often their voices are not represented and their request for help is given little priority.
It often stems from economics. In general, the neighborhoods that have the most need often receive the least assistance, and so become targets for gentrification.These areas are usually close to the hub or an extension of an existing, more-affluent community that has run out of space and needs more space for growth.
All of us are for growth, but what frequently takes place during “renovation” is a community of people find themselves taxed out, priced put and often put out of the area that has been home to them. The residents have little ability to object. Too often, they are left out of the early planning stages when their voices could offer collaborative initiatives. They have no choice but to make the best of what befalls them.
I believe that any economic emphasis should make improving existing economic conditions by adding resources that build up community’s primary resource: the people who live there. Having state-of-the art libraries to serve the community, having parks where children can actually play, alternative centers where teens can go after school to study, play and learn. This will both improve and level opportunities in economically underserved areas and can even spawn growth and opportunities from within the community.
One person’s reality is another’s dream. Everyone wants to be able to care for their families, have safe shelter and have opportunities for advancement in life. The reality is we don’t all begin at the same starting line. Some start farther ahead than others; some can only dream of reaching that starting point in their life journey.
We all start where we start. That being the case, thought and respect should always be priorities when lives are going to be disrupted during “growth.” Finding ways to help a community that is struggling economically to become healthy should be the emphasis long before gentrification is considered the right answer.
There is no easy way to go about growth when the plan includes taking over an area that people call home. That said, being sensitive to those who will be disrupted should always include representation for them at every step of the way. Everyone should win, the businesses wanting to move in and “revitalize the area” and those who want to stay.
What are your thoughts regarding gentrification? I’d love to hear them.
Regina Gale is a speaker who loves to sing and a poet who loves to dance. Local author of “Sometimes He Buys Me Grapes” a memoir. You can reacher her at www.reginagale.com.