Gentrification is a term that describes the general influx of wealthier people in an existing urban area, an increase in property values, and change in the neighborhood’s culture. After many years of urban population decline, city population is now growing due to the rise of trendy middle and upper class Americans moving into neighborhoods they previously would have avoided. Many people would see this as a chance to bring together groups of people from different races, backgrounds, cultures, and ideas to make improvements in the city; However, there continues to be high levels of inequality and poverty in these areas. Gentrification has caused tension and conflict in many communities where a dynamic and culture had already been established.
This confliction is often between poorer communities and more affluent citizens. As stated by documentarians Linda Goode-Bryant and Laura Poitras through their 2003 Documentary Flag Wars, this change is often viewed “as a miscarriage of social justice, in which wealthy, usually white, newcomers are congratulated for ‘”improving”‘ a neighborhood whose poor, minority residents are displaced by skyrocketing rents and economic change” (Goode-Bryant, Poitras). These people move to these places, mostly due to the convenience of cheap housing, marketability, and “diversity” but once they arrive nothing changes for the people living there already. The property values of these areas are brought down, where soon they can buy that land at a lower price, move all the previous owners out, and raise the price on the buildings, houses, etc. to make a profit. In such cities as Detroit, it feels like two different cities in one. The separation about as close as a block, the downtown and midtown area is in completely different shape than the rest of the city. The question a lot of residents are asking why isn’t this same change happening to the whole city, or even before when the city was completely broke and its people had nearly nothing.
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The reforming of a city usually comes at the cost of mass displacement of thousands of low and middle class residents. This cost has been problematic; Even with this increase in revenue for the city, the people are still at a disadvantage to the higher class residents moving in. In addition, tax reliefs are not being given to the people victim of these situations. Why is that one neighborhood may become gentrified but another neighborhood isn’t? More than likely because it may be cheaper than another area, but there isn’t a solid answer. Nonetheless, it is known that these areas must go through a trial of disinvestment, meaning that an area has to lose significant value in order for wealthier people to buy parts of the land and flip it for higher prices. Once a few have started doing this it starts a domino effect, attracting more people in and earning a new reputation to land developers and upper class people who used to the area in a negative light. They proceed to buy up old buildings and convert them to modern and trendy small businesses. I personally think the city government needs to create and devise plans to protect minorities from displacement, ensure affordable housing for those with low incomes, and further the economic revitalization of urban neighborhoods.
While it does bring different cultures together, it still doesn’t include everyone in that circle. If these efforts are meant to help the overall growth of the community, more would be done to help the residents already residing there. A lot of these residents are upset with the fact that a lot of the improvements in the community are only happening because of the wealthier white citizens that are moving in.
Some however can argue that money is being put back into the city by tearing down these old buildings and houses to put meaningful businesses and people in its place. However, not enough money is going to the residents who need to keep their own businesses and homes open. This sort of thing can’t work in urban communities such as Detroit, because of the huge repercussions, displacement, and civil unrest it causes. At first glance, gentrification seems like a positive change to a once hazardous economic situation for a certain area of a city. Nonetheless, people are being moved out of places they call home for the arrival of middle and upper class tenants and developers. This leaves people with nowhere else to go and more people on the streets.
One could argue that these people could just move to cheaper places, but with the rising home market prices affordability becomes a huge issue. Say for instance you take a person out of their place of business, say it’s a family business for decades, but gentrifiers decide to want to take this place down to create a Starbucks. Therein lies the rub, people have with gentrification especially when you can’t afford to go anywhere else; Forcing a lot of residents and business owners to file for bankruptcy. As a result of this, the poor begin to suffer from economic hardship and marginalization while the middle class and upper class wealth begins to grow from their new found infrastructure. Although wealth and race disparities will continue to linger within our capitalist system, with all the problems gentrification causes not enough solutions are being brought to the table.
However, based on an article I read by nextcity.org, there are three ways that we could approach to slow down its rapid rate. First, we need to make sure that “every stakeholder in the community has a place at the table before the process advances too far.” This means that developers and city residents should work and plan together from the start to make sure everyone’s goals and needs are met. Multiple meetings and gatherings should be mandatory to make sure that compromises can be made to any arguments on both sides. Next, people of the community need to “learn how the planning and development process works.” In cities like Philadelphia, there are organizations such as the Registered Community Organization (RCO) that deal with how people of the community want to shape its development.
However, these organizations aren’t able to reach the entire community which sometimes stagnates progress. Regardless, giving residents the knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes of their community can help development help everyone and influence developers. Lastly, city government needs to protect its residents and keep the culture already established, but bringing in others to that culture and helping the understand what makes that special. A community that sticks together and forms plans together can in turn use these plans to influence city legislation and negotiation deals. Even with all talks of solutions, the problem persists and can only go on so much longer without huge consequence like a sore wound. Social conflicts will definitely reach a boiling point where crime rates will rise and riots may occur in all communities.
Thus, taking all of this into account one can now begin to understand the controversiality of gentrification. Although, It is obvious that this brings in revenue and wealth for the city, it is still a process that take the culture out of an area and forces its people to the streets. The benefits of gentrification are rather short term, while the long-term effect will lead to social instability within cities. Creating this disconnection between people also has a huge impact on senior citizens and less inclined to younger people. When older people are removed from their homes they take with them knowledge, wisdom, and their history with the community.
For example, in Detroit in 2014 a low-income senior citizen home was torn down and its residents were evicted and replaced with The Griswold House. The land was purchased by a private developer who turned the home into a luxury apartment building. The worst thing being is that construction began while the eviction process was still taking place which exposed the former residents to dust, debris, and unnecessary noise. Western European colonization practices and ideas are heavily influencing the future of Detroit and many other cities with its redevelopment. These unpopulated areas and abandoned buildings are often seen as realms of new territory for these people to conquer and reinvent. The future of Detroit will depend upon future political and business leadership to help engage gentrification in a constructive way, and encourage an air of acceptance but still respecting traditional ways and culture.
Whomever these leaders will be, they must work to make sure that area where gentrification is occurring will keep its cultural identity and not displace low income minorities. Also, work must be done to show that Detroit is not a frontier to be settled by these “urban pioneers”. These are areas and spaces owned by United States citizens with about as much right as anyone else. People like me will not tolerate this, and will do about anything to change and destroy it. Now if this gentrification were changed so that it includes all forms of people to benefit from its increase in wealth then we would be having a different conversation. These spaces aren’t for young people who are just trying to be trendy or edgy, it’s for people who want to move here and promote social and economic change. It’s for people who want to interact with people who look different from themselves, and for people who want to create light out of the darkness in our world. It is for people who are truly focused on being progressives, and respecting the dignity and humanity of the residents already residing.