Thursday, April 30, 2009

feel bad about participating in gentrification

This is a guest post by Phoebe Caulfield, who blogs at Rectory Entrance. Phoebe says about herself, "I'm a twenty-something living in New York. I'm also semi-reformed white trash, an ex-christian, a feminist, and angry."

"How's that gentrification going?"

This might be TMI for an anonymous blog, but I live in Harlem. When we moved to New York, we had a weekend to find our place, and this was the second building we looked at. It was in our price range, on Manhattan, and in a great location relative to Boyfriend's work and where (we presumed) I was going to school at the time. The building was brand new, gorgeous, and just right for us. So we moved to Harlem.

At the time, I didn't think twice about it. My knowledge of New York City and its neighborhoods was pretty limited, and although I associated Harlem with its large African-American population, I knew little of this thing called "gentrification." That's a term that New Yorkers (and I'm sure residents in other cities) throw around pretty often. I didn't even hear it for the first time until we had been here for about two weeks. I can't remember where I heard the term or in what context, but something prompted me to look it up (Wikipedia, natch).

Gentrification is, as Wikipedia defines it, the change in an urban area associated with the movement of more affluent individuals into a lower-class area. Let's not forget that class is hopelessly entangled with race as well, and so in places like Harlem the more honest definition of "gentrification" would be: When rich, white individuals move into a poor, black and/or Hispanic neighborhood. For the city and the affluent people who move to lower-class areas, gentrification is a real boon. It produces more revenue for the city in terms of higher property taxes, changes the character of neighborhoods, and can reduce neighborhood crime rates. The City of New York would like to see Harlem and places like it gentrified. In fact, I believe my building was part of the city's conscious effort to do just that: The city auctioned off "postage stamp" lots for a bargain price of $1 million. My landlord bought one of these properties, and on it she constructed the building in which I sit typing this.

Unfortunately, it turns out those benefits for the city come at a cost. A human one. Higher property taxes mean the current neighborhood residents can't afford their homes anymore. Higher rents on gentrified properties drive up rents of surrounding buildings, and landlords force out their tenants with inflated rents. People who have lived in these neighborhoods for generations suddenly have to find somewhere else to live. People become homeless. And when I say that gentrification changes the "character" of the neighborhood, what that usually means is that it makes the neighborhood "whiter." Suddenly, a neighborhood in which residents have spent years socializing and bonding on their stoops and on the sidewalk is antagonized by white residents who don't understand the culture and make noise complaints. Instead of small, locally-run shops, a couple of Starbucks and Duane Reades move in. Although the wealthy white people who now occupy the neighborhood (and run the government) may see these things as an advantage, they are decidedly not beneficial to the already disenfranchised residents.

When I finally took the time to do some reading about gentrification, I was astounded and saddened at my own ignorance. I didn't know about it when we moved, and I was ashamed to be part of the problem. Correction: I am still ashamed that I am part of that problem. What I saw when we moved was a beautiful apartment in our price range, in a good location, that was well below what landlords in other areas were charging for units that weren't even as nice. We aren't "rich," and so we jumped on the find. But although we aren't rich, we're obviously better off than many of the other residents in Harlem, particularly those who live in the housing projects beside us and across the street. We're especially better off than those who stand in line for the food pantry every Sunday at the church on the other side of us. Oh, and did I mention that we're automatically more privileged in this society than every minority resident in Harlem simply by virtue of the fact that we're white?

So yeah, I feel pretty fucking bad about moving to this neighborhood. And it's not because it's "dangerous" or because residents harass us in some way. To the contrary, in the nearly-year that we've lived here no one has bothered or hassled us in any way that we haven't encountered in other city neighborhoods; I regularly stumble home drunk at 2 am feeling no more danger than I would stumbling home elsewhere at 2 am; and I've never lived someplace where the neighbors have been friendlier. I feel bad that the very act of signing a lease in this neighborhood poses a serious threat to the future of Harlem and its residents. I feel bad that the neighbors who are so friendly might be forced out in ten years' time, and that Harlem will soon become indistinguishable from Park Slope. I feel bad that it's my fault.

Maybe it's because I grew up without much money myself and have faced class discrimination that I empathize with the people whom gentrification adversely affects, but I thought any city resident would be able to see what a problem this is. I guess not, because this week a rich, white professional asked me, in cheerful and optimistic way, "So, how's gentrification going up there?" This is not the first time someone has asked me this question, and it is certainly not the first time someone has asked it as though they were inquiring whether my open, festering sore had healed nicely.

When asked in such a manner, that question boils down to this: "So, how's the forced evacuation of blacks and Hispanics going? And the poor in general? You've driven them out as well? Excellent."

I'm never sure how to answer that question. I try to be diplomatic and polite (something along the lines of "fine" and switching the subject usually works), but maybe I ought to be more direct about my feelings on the subject. What would I say? "Yes, depriving poor minorities of their homes and businesses is going swimmingly. I certainly love waking up each morning and thinking: What can I do today that will squelch the local culture into a bland, white mass?"

We were ignorant when we moved, but we know better now. We would like to move and not be part of this problem anymore, but I will admit that it is difficult, because we fall into what you would call New York's middle class (if it had one). We're somewhere between affording Harlem and affording Chelsea, but there isn't much in the way of accommodating that. We're recent college grads and it will take time before we are able to afford a place in an affluent neighborhood. But there's the rub: I can defend why we, and other gentrifiers choose these neighborhoods on the grounds that high prices elsewhere have driven us out; however, I can't defend doing the same thing to an even more disadvantaged group, especially when we have cause to believe we will eventually possess the earning power to move to those affluent areas that we can't afford now. Many residents of this neighborhood won't ever have that opportunity, and all we're doing is destroying the only place they have so we can have a temporary foothold on our way up.

So yes, we are looking for a new place at the end of this lease, in a different neighborhood. The shitty economy may work in our favor this time, as dropping rents may make those neighborhoods more accessible to us. I can't guarantee that we'll be able to find a place, and I genuinely enjoy our current apartment. But it would sadden me to be part of this problem for much longer, especially now that I know about it. That said, I realize that nothing is going to stop gentrification: What the local government wants, the local government gets. And really, nothing can change the fact that we've already contributed to the problem. But if we move, at least I can finally sleep at night knowing I'm no longer helping the government further disenfranchise the poor. And maybe the next time someone asks me the dreaded gentrification question, I can tell them how I really feel about it.


  1. i live in harlem as well.. up in the sugar hill area, and my landlord, who is white, commented sort of off handedly when my girlfriend and i moved in that 10 years ago, not a single white person lived in this building. now we make up about half of the population. i was talking about this, and gentrification at large, with a native new yorker friend, who said, "you and your girl are like the pied piper for gentrification: want to know the next hip neighborhood? follow the white lesbians." which has some truth to it. white lesbians tend to make less money than their straight counterparts and gay men, so when white lesbians start to move en masse somewhere, it's a good sign that gentrification in that area is or will soon be a reality. just look at park slope.

    anyway, i'm moving in september, which is a de-facto way to deal with it, but it is an interesting quandary.

  2. Oh God I'm going to be the first one. Ok well I am also part of this gentrification movement. I, too, live in Harlem and pay way more rent than my mother does living on the upper west side. Would I have liked to stay in my old stomping ground, sure, but could I afford it, Hell No!

    I think the real issue is the segregation of the classes in the black neighborhoods. Blacks who weren't allowed to live in other neighborhoods because of restrictive covenants were forced to stay where they were which in turned had a positive affect on the neighborhood kids. Doctors lived next to bus drivers and cabbies next to lawyers. There might have been drugs or other violence "outbreaks" but the neighborhood never became blighted because there was always a mix which is a good thing, one group of people monitoring another so to speak.

    This really didn't happen, IMO, in white neighborhoods especially in NY. In places like Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge white city workers lived next to pharmacists and doctors. Blacks didn't/couldn't move into those neighborhoods without being in fear. Fear that someone might hurt you physically or fear that you would come home with a dead animal on your lawn or bomb threats. To this day, I live in fear of going to those neighborhoods. I break into anxiety attacks. It's also the reason that the blacks who do live in formally segregated neighborhoods are from different countries, usually the Caribbean or African countries.

    All this to say, I wish there was a way for the people in the community to continue to live in their neighborhood without being pushed out by YUPPIES (I include myself) who need apartments. One of the worse things about Harlem was how amenities weren't available. There used to be ONE Duane Reade where you can get your prescriptions filled that stayed open all night and that is on 110th street. People who lived on 140th had to go a mile and half for their prescription drugs??? I kind of like the fact that I have a choice now b/w Rite Aid and Duane Reade. They had no such choice before. Do I think that Harlem will look like the UWS anytime soon, not so much.

    "Central" Harlem has a large French African population and the presence is felt. Most of the restaurants in my hood are African and cater to those residents. However, I wouldn't mind a diner or two--I have to cross Morningside to get one on Amsterdam and those are really not diners.

    Sorry for such a large post--I just moved there two months ago but I went there for school (elementary, junior high, and HS).

  3. Thanks for the guest post, Macon!

    @d: an interesting part of gentrification that I left out is that homosexuals have a very specific role in it. I believe the wikipedia article mentions a documentary called Flag Wars, about the tension between black residents and gay gentrifiers. Sounds fascinating.

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful piece, and yeah, that white solidarity question some rich guy asked you really does have pernicious asssumptions. The assumption of white solidarity being maybe the worst part. I find myself resisting that more and more, and I can say what I'm thinking better in those moments when I get those questions. I guess though that I still don't say something like, "So why did you assume it was okay to ask me that question(or, say that racist thing)? Just cuz we're both WHITE?" Maybe I should.

  5. "When rich, white individuals move into a poor, black and/or Hispanic neighborhood."

    Interesting to me. This still sounds very white, because there's nothing about Asian neighborhoods? If anyone knows about gentrification, it's us. Look at the Chinatowns in Manhattan, Boston, DC, Philadelphia - I mean, not only do white people with access to money come in our neighborhoods and drive up rent, but you don't get the same white guilt that I guess there is in Harlem. We're just characters in your story I guess.

    In most east coast cities, Chinatowns are among the poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods. But they're also downtown, relatively close to the city's financial center, so white people get to live in an affordable area, close to work, without all that feeling bad about displacing people, because they conveniently don't speak English.

    No time to feel bad for pricing them out of their homes, when they're so easy to ignore! It's like they're not there at all!And I wouldn't have a problem with you all moving here if you cared about this community at all. But living in Chinatown is more cool for the hipster cred than for joining up in solidarity.

  6. @ giles: You are correct, I neglected to mention the Asian community. Because I live in Spanish Harlem, I chose to specifically focus on the black and Hispanic residents...but areas like Chinatown are just as affected and perhaps even more overlooked. Thanks for pointing this out.

  7. I wouldn't have a problem with you all moving here if you cared about this community at all. But living in Chinatown is more cool for the hipster cred than for joining up in solidarity.I really get this!

    When White people move into historically non-White neighborhoods, do they interact with the community at all, or do they stay huddled in their safe White bubble?

    I'm living in Bushwick now, and it's sort of disheartening to see that we don't interact with many people native to this area. There was one guy, but he's not around anymore.

  8. Gentrification has nothing inherently do with being white. Do any of you even know what "gentrification" even means? Gentrification means that rich people move into an area and displace poor people. In my city, all of the gentrifying areas were in fact affluent, or at least middle class to begin with, then poor folk moved, then rich folk started moving back in.

    Why do you people seem to think that gentrification simply means a whole bunch of white people moving in? How many of you have issues with a bunch of Hispanics moving in? What about a bunch of blacks moving to the neighborhood? A bunch of Chinese? None of you have any problems with that, I bet. Places like Compton, California were overwhelmingly black in the 1990s and before, now, the blacks have been displaced, and it is beginning to become overwhelmingly Hispanic. How come no complaints about that from you people? It's very bizarre that you only reprimand white people for behavior that most other groups practice, as well.

    Jeez, I don't know who hate white people more: white liberals like you people, or The New Black Panther party.

  9. I, too, didn't learn about gentrification until after I had moved into a predominantly black neighborhood in Atlanta a couple of years ago. I struggled with the idea, with the effect that I was having on the neighborhood, and also struggled with the frustration over the fact that it would be hard for me to afford a house in a different area. Class-wise, I fit in to the neighborhood. Race-wise, I was part of the problem. One decision I made while I lived there was to NOT spend money at the brand new businesses that had followed the white people in to the neighborhood. I spent my money at the places the older residents did - the little catch-all five-and-dime type store instead of Target; the old gas station/liquor store instead of the brand new shiny gas station; etc.

  10. You might as well stay where you are. Moving is pointless now, for the reason that you have stated it to be. For the damage that you and yours have done--displaced older, not as well off black residents of Harlem--has been done and it is irreversible. Those black folks ain't coming back. They're not going to be able to afford to come back. You've pretty much pushed up the rents, and pushed out the old community, forever. And you've made it so that their kids and grandkids won't be able to come back, too.

    Also, most people, once they leave a neighbourhood, usually don't look back (except, for perhaps the Palestinians). So with your leaving to relieve yourself of your guilt for having been a player in the gentrification of Harlem, it isn't that the people who used to live in the neighbourhood are going to be scouring the real-estate listings for openings in their old neighbourhood. They have been forced to move out and on.

  11. @toastsixoh: I think you miss the point. Because whiteness and wealthy are HIGHLY correlated, the problem becomes an issue of both race and class. When racial minorities move into an affluent neighborhood, they do not displace the wealthy (likely white) citizens in the same way that wealthy white displace poor minorities.

  12. There are many ethnic groups, including East Asians, Indians, as well as Muslims and African immigrants who out earn whites in the US. "Whiteness" is associated with wealth because YOU want it to be associated with wealth, and website like this, and your attitudes perpetuate that. Actually, I find it quite racist how many of you associate "white" with money, and "non-white" with poverty.

    Anyway, the issue of gentrification is wealthy people displacing poor people. It is not racially based, so why must you white liberals make it a thing of race?

    And you still evaded my point: why is white people displacing non-whites any worse than some non-white groups displacing other non-white groups? Why is white people moving into a neighborhood and displacing blacks any worse than Hispanics moving into a neighborhood and displacing blacks, as is the case with Compton, California?

    I also find it quite contradictory how so many of you advocate living in diverse neighborhoods. The thought of a majority white neighborhood makes you sick, but you'll be damned if whites venture out from their "too white" neighborhoods, and start moving into your precious "diverse" neighborhoods. Why do you white liberals think you are the only white people entitled to live in a "diverse neighborhood?" It reminds me of the "Stuff White People Like" blog (which should be called Stuff White Liberals Like), and the one about how white people love being the only white person around. For such self-loathers, you should do think you're special.

  13. What IS it with these snarling trolls, that they think they have to characterize people here? First it's "self-loathing white liberals," then when they find out that a lot of the readers here are not white, it's just "liberals." Then when they find out that simplistic, binarized political labels don't help much here, they leave, with the xenophobic, ironically besieged attitude that they showed up with firmly intact.

    I'm sick of that, toastsixoh. Stick to topics at hand, and keep in mind that any comment from you that attempts to characterize anyone else here, personally or as a group, isn't going to get published.

  14. I live in Portland, Oregon and I've also been an un-witting perpetrator of gentrification. In my own hometown, which is absolutely shameful. But amusingly I can say that I followed a hispanic lesbian friend to this area, who had just moved up from California. So, what does that mean?

    The gentrification in North Portland (the red-lined district for black folks in PDX) was actually completed before I moved in. The New Seasons, the Priuses, the constant stream of bicyclists were already dotting the neighborhood before we made our appearance.

    But I do have to agree when some folks mention that gentrification is not necessarily about race (or one particular racial group). I know of a great neighborhood in P-Town called "Lents" which is suffering the birth pains of gentrification as we speak. The MAX light rail system is a few months from completion in this neighborhood, and home prices have definitely been on the rise. The PDC (the villainous Portland Development Commission) has been pimping the hell out of this area.

    But in general, homes and apartments along the MAX corridor sell better and rent faster because Portland is in desperate need of public transit to cure it's commuter ills. We're a little city that grew up way too fast, and our nearly three hours of hellish traffic show for it.

    Anyways - Lents has long been a poor, racially and ethnically mixed working class community with many Vietnamese, Eastern Europeans and poor whites shacking up there.

    And yes - gentrification is teh suck. It doesn't "eliminate poverty" it simply displaces people. We moved after a year in North Portland and bought a condo in outer-southeasy, nearing Gresham...which is where most of the poor populations - including black and hispanics have re-grouped.

    Unfortunately - the strong black community in North Portland cannot be easily remade or flourish out here in the burbs as successfully as it did in North. The small, local black owned and supported businesses are on the other side of the city.

    It's a shame - to me - when folks focus specifically on one race or culture as being the victims of gentrification. Gentrification isn't aimed at eliminating all blacks, whites or hispanics from an's usually financially targeted. But that shouldn't dissuade folks from looking at the racial aspects, certainly.

    I think all members of a community suffer for losing important pieces of a collective city culture. :\

  15. This is a problem in Philadelphia as well. I go to Temple University, which has tens of thousands of students, but not nearly enough on campus housing. This means that lot's of housing in the surrounding North Philly neighborhoods are purchased for cheap and rented out to students. This causes conflict with neighbors who feel that the character of their neighborhood is changing.

    The same thing is happening in the between campus and Center City (downtown Philly), where North Philly and Center City meet. Young people, some college students, and many whites are buying cheap housing or living in cheap apartments.

    Lots of students, white people, or people unfamiliar with the issues don't see what's wrong with this. On the surface it seems OK - it goes against our fundamental beliefs to say "white people can't live in this neighborhood" or "college kids our young professionals with tight budgets can't seek out cheaper housing." Really, these things wouldn't be a problem if they didn't infringe on the people already living in the communities. However, because housing in the US has always been racist, when white people move in, property values go up. On top of the racism, add the fact that neighborhoods with young white professionals seem "trendy" - an extra selling point for real estate, and you end up with poorer, usually black residents being pushed out.

    People who are against gentrification aren't segregationist. Integrated communities are a good thing, but places that are gentrified rarely stay integrated, because the original residents can't afford to stay.

  16. Kevin thanks for making a point that some are missing, Property values are linked to whiteness.

    There are white neighborhoods, working class neighborhoods, whose properties are valued more than professional black neighborhoods because white people aren't there. It was the mantra for a long time that whites didn't want black living in their neighborhoods because they didn't want their property values to fall. Never mind that if they were moving into that neighborhood in the first place they probably were "smarter" and certainly made more money their their neighbors.

    Another point is that if people who are gentrifies move after they have been in the neighborhood less than a year or two then the community will regard them with even more disdain because they are heightening that transitory aspect of gentrifiers and a good reason why shop keepers and the community don't like them--they are not invested in the community and use it for what they can and then leave.

    Add to the debate about how suburbs are becoming obsolete if not just out of fashion. People want to move back to the city and the ones that don't their kids certainly do. Living out in No man's Land is no longer the ideal. Development in traditionally undeveloped areas is inevitable.

    The question becomes, how do we keep the character of the neighborhood without uprooting the people who created that character.

  17. Kevin,

    I totally hear you about the Temple area of North Philadelphia. I am an alumna as well as a native of North Philadelphia (now living in Southern CA). But, gentrification is the only way of explaining what's going on in that area. The school and its interests are building it up solely for the students, parents, and faculty, not for the residents. So, who will suffer? The residents will, of course.

  18. Oh ok, so I'm a "snarling troll" because I disagree with you and I bring up counterpoints to all of your arguments? I'm perfectly aware that not all of your readers here are white. I am not addressing them regarding this particular issue. Who I am addressing is the white people here.

    And speaking of characterizing people, I would suggest you practice what you preach. Please point out to where ANYTHING I have written is xenophobic. Pointing out the fact that gentrification does not mean "white people moving in," pointing out the fact that all of you seem to have a problem with whites moving into a neighborhood and displacing others, but you have no problem when non-whites move into a neighborhood and displace other whites is no xenophobic. And most of all, pointing at your very own racists attitudes that say "white" is synonmous with wealth, and "non-white" is synonymous with poverty is NOT xenophobic. The fact that I am not ashamed to be white, nor do I feel like I must live my life eternally feeling guilty for being white, does NOT make xenophobic.

    A tactic people like you use to silence any of your opposition to to pull out the old "racist" card. Racist, Nazis, bigot, xenophobic, etc... are all just ad hominem attacks against all of your opposotion. I am not xenophobic at all, but thank you very much for accusing me of such. I just have an issue with people who are indeed, self-loathing white liberals. I also have a problem with your non-white readers who agree with the "blame whitey" sentiment here, but that is an argument for another day.

    And go ahead and threaten me with censorship. The person I take issue with most here is you, and you'll still see my comments, whether you post them or not.

  19. toastsixoh, why do you sound so bitter?

    Oh ok, so I'm a "snarling troll" because I disagree with you and I bring up counterpoints to all of your arguments?|
    No, you're a troll because you don't sincerely listen to what anyone else here has to say, and because you keep repeating your own, refuted points over and over again.

    I'm perfectly aware that not all of your readers here are white. I am not addressing them regarding this particular issue. Who I am addressing is the white people here.|
    Why? Do you consider non-white people so far beneath you that they're not worthy of discussing anything with you?

    And speaking of characterizing people, I would suggest you practice what you preach. Please point out to where ANYTHING I have written is xenophobic.|
    Claiming out that POC moving into a white neighborhood drives out whites is xenophobic. Whites leave in those situations because they want to, not because they have to. In the opposite situation--gentrification--people with money (who are largely white) move into an area that's largely non-white, and relatively impoverished, and drive up rental rates to such an extent that the original residents DO have to leave. You insist on treating the two as if they're both apples, when the comparison is really an apple and an orange. And again, claiming that non-whites moving into a white neighborhood "drive out" the white residents is a xenophobic claim.

    By the way, what do you think of Mexicans who come to America to work? Something xenophobic, perhaps?

    Pointing out the fact that gentrification does not mean "white people moving in," . . .|
    True, not ALL white people, but mostly, and enough to say it is a "white" movement.

    pointing out the fact that all of you seem to have a problem with whites moving into a neighborhood and displacing others, but you have no problem when non-whites move into a neighborhood and displace other whites is [not] xenophobic.|
    See above.

    And most of all, pointing at your very own racists attitudes that say "white" is synonmous with wealth, and "non-white" is synonymous with poverty is NOT xenophobic.|
    You're oversimplifying what gentrification and white flight are. To say that most gentrifiers are white (which is true) is not the same thing as saying that all white people are rich (which is, obviously, false). And to describe the racial aspect of gentrification is also not to say that "non-white" is synonymous with poverty; obviously, many non-white people have a lot of money, and do not live in areas that are subject to gentrification. But you're right--in this case, to say what you just wrote is not xenophobic. It's just false.

    The fact that I am not ashamed to be white, nor do I feel like I must live my life eternally feeling guilty for being white, does NOT make xenophobic.|
    I don't feel ashamed to be white either; it's not my fault that I'm classified that way. I do object, though, to what the lie of whiteness has done to me, and more so, to what it's done, and continues to do, to others.

    A tactic people like you use to silence any of your opposition to to pull out the old "racist" card. Racist, Nazis, bigot, xenophobic, etc... are all just ad hominem attacks against all of your opposotion. I am not xenophobic at all, but thank you very much for accusing me of such.|
    You're welcome.

    I also have a problem with your non-white readers who agree with the "blame whitey" sentiment here, but that is an argument for another day.|
    Oh really? How about we make that day today? Or, again, do you consider non-white people too far below you? Or are you afraid to engage with them? Or what?

    And go ahead and threaten me with censorship. The person I take issue with most here is you, and you'll still see my comments, whether you post them or not.|
    Why most with me, if I'm basically saying the same things that a lot of other people here are saying? Why must you address particular people, rather than particular things that people say?

  20. @biker - I guess you didn't get my apology earlier that calling you bait was pure accident. It's not like I was looking at your comment while I responded.

    @Kevin - You couldn't be more correct, sir, when you say that whiteness=higher property value. That can't be disputed.

    @texas - Ultimately, the problem is the displacement of the poor many of whom won't be able to find some where else to stay. The same thing happened in order to build the interstate. Black neighborhoods, poor or booming, were busted and many displaced peoples had nowhere to go.

    But, while the ultimate problem is the displacement of the poor, the whiteness of gentrification, or those white participants of gentrification, only serve to exacerbate the existing problem of white privilege. It could be assumed with some measure of confidence that middle-class people of the same race/ethnicity moving into a poor area, be they black, latin, asia, etc, would be more apt to engage with their poorer neighbors. I can say from study that many affluent blacks didn't want to move; they had to move to afford their children better opportunities. Access to better schools, doctors, pharmacies someone mentioned, groceries, etc and so on. Lots would willingly move back if possible.

  21. So if gentrification happens when rich white people move into a neighborhood that the gays, artists and hipsters have made trendy, raise property values, and price out the local inhabitants, then what do we call outsiders who move their because, like the original poster, it was an apartment that they could afford? Is she actually part of the problem because that apartment was the first "nice" one she could afford?

    Is it wrong for a non-black person to move to a historically black area if thats where they can afford to pay rent? Within the next year I'll be moving out of the northwest, probably site unseen. When I look for a new apartment the things I'll factor in (as always) are: can I afford the rent, can I afford the pet deposit, is it in good proximity to public transit. Does this mean I'm contributing to some sort of dire scourge and longstanding disenfranchisement program if I end up in a historically black area? Or killing a local culture? Does newcomer=outsider and immediately confer disinterest in participating in the community to which one moves?

    Housing costs in most major US cities, and even many small towns, are pretty ridiculous. A recent study shows that an adult making federal minimum wage cannot rent a one bedroom apartment by themselves in any major US city. Gentrification and the impulse to displace and replace the inhabitants of an area is bad, but housing is necessary, and suggesting that someone should live someplace that they can't afford to be surrounded by people who do (or don't) look like them seems weird to me.

    @toastsixoh: there has been a lot written about hispanic movement into historically black neighborhoods, particularly in LA. It isn't gentrification because the conflict that is there (and is well documented) is about two groups that have been historically and remain institutionally discriminated against competing for the same resources (jobs, homes); rather then wealthy members of the dominant group in an area moving into a poor minority neighborhood and pricing the locals out.

  22. Jules, the problem isn't really with the individual or individual family who chooses living arrangements based on need. The problem we have is a system that dictates that when a large influx of a certain population moves into an area, the property values change. While determining property values by race may no longer be official legal policy, it's still a part of reality.

    Also, there's a difference between one white moving into a black community because he or she is just starting out an needs an affordable place to live and a whole horde of wealthier, usually white people moving in and forcing original inhabitants out because the neighborhood has become trendy.

    But, then again, white people have been pushing non-white out of their homes without blinking ever since they got to this continent, so I guess old habits die hard.

  23. Hi, i'm new to this blog; very interesting...

    i'm a white anarchist (which, to me, means feminist and anti-racist, concerned about understanding “racialization”) living in Vancouver, Canada, where gentrification is a serious concern, especially with the approach of the 2010 olympics. i share this concern, but i also think gentrification continues to be poorly understood, and, i'm sorry to say, i believe some misunderstandings, or at least some unhelpful ways of talking about it, persist in this post...

    i think it's unfortunate that the author seems to feel so fatalistic (gentrification "can't be stopped"?!!); again i think this is partially due to misunderstanding, or poorly conceptualizing, gentrification. If we emphasize that gentrification is a process of *displacement*, perhaps we can envision strategies for challenging it based on common ground (demanding affordable / social housing).

    What i'm most troubled by is the author's expressions of "guilt" and feeling that "it's my fault." How? We have to contextualize things, look at the histories of policies and mechanisms of oppression that have lead to (and continue to promote) things like gentrification, not just present individual acts as responsible for them... A friend of mine has written a great article called “Accountability vs. Guilt: situating white privilege”; her distinction has been very useful to me.

    Choosing to move into an affordable apartment is a reasonable choice; acknowledging the context (of gentrification) in which that choice was made invites action and reflection — one form of which is blogs like this one. Joining (or co-creating) a campaign for rent control — IN your new neighbourhood — is another. These actions are complimentary.

    Hmmm... i'm sorry this isn't very clear or concise. One question i have is: How can "we" (“people of pallor”) challenge racism — being the primary beneficiaries of it (and therefore those with the greatest responsibility to challenge it) — if we succumb to guilt or fatalistic conceptualizations of things like gentrification (or even "race" itself)? What i mean is: How does feeling guilty — and moving / staying out of “non-white” neighbourhoods — help? i don't think it does; i think old fashioned solidarity, challenging the institutions that bear the true responsibility for these processes, is much more helpful, and more liberating for everyone.

    Nevertheless i sincerely applaud the author's exemplary willingness to be unflinchingly self-critical; i just worry that sometimes being (uncritically?) self-critical can turn into a dangerously isolating practice that looks like self-loathing... which is of course exactly what racists (and apologists for white privilege) always accuse us of being / doing...
    i hope that made some sense, i really don't mean to insult anyone here (i am quite aligned with the aims of this blog!), i'm just wanting to contribute to reflection on how best to resist the displacement of already marginalized populations in our cities... (eg: any suggestions on how to challenge government & real estate institutions on the calculation of property values? where does this power come from?)

    In solidarity,

  24. Neighborhoods change with the Times, ain't nothing you can do about it.

  25. You can make sure people have a home.

  26. I am an African American female that moved to regentrified area in S. Chicago last year. While the race dynamic makes for a different scenario I think you ought to stay and get involved in the community. Your moving out will not stop what the Profit margin is driving. Instead, the neighborhood will get white folks that do not care about the people nor the community but are there simply because of the reasonable rents and the upscale accomodations.
    Don't we want to begin to desegregate our communities? We should be striving for mixed income communities anyway!

    Just do not become cynical when you experience the realities of inner city living like the high crime rate, poor or no services and neglect from elected officials. Instead, help to advocate for these things in your communty.
    Rev Rahman

  27. It's not the desegregation that's the problem as much as the racial isolation even in those integrated communities. The biggest question is this: the people who used to live in the "regentrified apartments? Where do they live now?

    I'd feel much better if I knew that funds were being put into the program such that every poor person/family moved out of gentrified neighborhood was able to move in to a middle class neighborhood. Historically, this people have had no other option than to move to a neighborhood that's even worse. That's why we have the situation we do. Big cities across the country have been gentrified over and over again since the 60s.

  28. I live in Vancouver Canada, where Asians have pushed out the white people in many places. Where there was this grungy rock and roll kind of stuff and hippy stuff now there is the most bland of any place in Canada.

    So its not about race. I live now in a place where white people push out white people... the cool laid back small town BC people are pushed out by the hip, left wing people that have things like mohawks and millions of tattoos just to some how prove they are hard.

    So no its not at all about race,

    ALL people ruined north America that have came before, there really was something here before us...

    I remember a black girl coming on our hippy radio station on day saying,... oh my god this town is so white" with such discust.

    Imagine I went to a place and said, oh my god this place is soooo black... I would be shot by yuppies.. I would never be so ignortant to say a culture doesn't have some way to be there own and be OK.

    PS, all the homeless people in Canada are white, straight and male. No wonder all the hippies and yuppies, and hipsters... hate the poor, if they were women or non-white they would help them.

  29. Canada doesn't have the same racial history as the US. So comparing the two is pretty much comparing apples and oranges. And in the US, the status of whites visa minorities, and the rampant negative stereotyping of minorities make it such that if you say, "This place is so white!" with disgust, you problably bland and boring, nothing really awful. But to say, "This place is so black/Asian/etc!" you probably mean loud, uncouth, criminal, dangerous, or any other number of negative stereotypes.

    As far as the poor, people always find reasons to hate the poor. Here, it's mostly because they think the poor are mostly people of color. Before the 60s, it was because they thought the poor were just a bunch of loose women and their many illegitimate children. There will always be poor people. And in capitalism, there will always be people looking to exploit the poor. The first step to exploitation is dehumanization, no matter the race or gender.

  30. Speaking of Flag Wars, the neighborhood it takes place in is Olde Towne East (pics in my Columbus Neighborhood Guide, FYI), just east of Downtown Columbus where I lived over a year ago. The documentary was OK, but didn't focus on a core issue.

    The destructive thug culture adopted by too many blacks is anti-intellectual, pro-violence, and extremely materialistic. Sad to point out, but virtually any majority black neighborhood is not functional. It is where ignorance is flourishing as parents neglect their children and where homicides and other violent crimes are most common. Black churches are supposed to serve as a focal point for their neighborhoods, but have done little to nothing to better the current situation. I'd say it's due to them belonging to a conservative strain of Christian theology which is anti-intellectual and anti-homosexuality, now mixed with get-rich-quick schemes to fill pastors' pockets.

    Over here in Columbus, neighborhoods are much more segregated due to the fact that our neighborhoods are not connected together by rail, in fact we're the largest city without rail in the country. You don't get much intermingling between different groups for there to be a positive influence to counter the violent cultures adopted by some in lower-income neighborhoods. In fact, many Columbusites have never set foot in such neighborhoods with the overabundance of highways available.

    Of course, it's worth keeping in mind that unlike cities like New York, Columbus tore down huge swathes of minority (read large black population) neighborhoods for highways. Functional, even thriving neighborhoods like King-Lincoln, which served as the cultural and commercial center for blacks was cut-off from Downtown while Broad Street to the south had its tree-lined medians removed making it a mini-highway. Tens of thousands of residents left (from 60,000 down to 16,000), businesses were crushed, homes were abandoned and razed, some commercial buildings were torn down for grass lots or sprawling development (just what low-income people need: being car-dependent), streetcar lines providing access to the rest of the city were torn out for an inferior bus system, social experimentation was introduced in the form of some projects (social experimentation is OK on low-income minorities, you know), etc. Isn't urban "renewal" great?

    I do not feel bad at all about driving out the riff-raff, which is unfortunately much more prominent in low-income neighborhoods. Thing is, people in these neighborhoods who aren't involved in gang-banging or other undesirable activity have the opportunity to clean up their neighborhoods. If they lack initiative or are unsuccessful, don't be surprised that gentrifiers see the potential in the high-quality housing stock and dilapidated commercial buildings and want to make it a reality.

    I'm convinced there can be a middle-ground with limited gentrification. It really is up to current residents to support an improvement of the overall culture in the community by fostering a positive attitude towards education and a negative one towards violence. Right now, in majority-black neighborhoods it is just accepted for males to be in gangs, but absolutely verboten for a black male to be homosexual, which is insane. If priorities were reversed, as they should be, being in a gang would instead be very shameful. I think the tension between gays/lesbians and black residents was exaggerated in the documentary, but it is there. Low-income neighborhoods of any race tend to be that way.

    The good news is that more locals are starting to explore the city more and venture off the beaten path, mainly for culinary reasons. Some businesses in neighborhoods that have long been forgotten are seeing some visitors who aren't from the immediate area. This brings in money to businesses in these areas without any gentrification. We have too many intact urban commercial streets to gentrify anyway, unless a swarm of residents from other high-cost, east and west coast cities move in for large scale gentrification.

  31. Admittedly, I didn't read your whole comment. Not all of it was as racist as it initially started out. So I'll say this - the problem is those "black majority" neighborhoods is income, not race. And . . . listen, when it comes to the black church, you don't seem to know what you're talking about, so don't.

  32. Maybe you should try reading the entire post. It's the culture that people are choosing to associate with race, not race itself, which I made clear.

    As for black churches, what have they done to turn neighborhoods away from ignorance and violence? Those are available in large quantities near these churches. I've seen plenty of church signs and fliers talking about planting your seed for economic rewards from God and how God wants you to be debt-free. Overall, these neighborhoods would be better off with a different kind of church or none at all.

  33. columbusite said:

    "Of course, it's worth keeping in mind that unlike cities like New York, Columbus tore down huge swathes of minority (read large black population) neighborhoods for highways."

    I forget the man's full name, but his first name is Robert...He was a planner in New York City (post WW2) who tore up every one of the five boroughs in NYC to put in highways and bridges, mostly to make it an easy commute for the suburban sprawlers (and to encourage suburban sprawl and the abandonment of the "inner" city) whose jobs were in the city. New Yorkers of all colours/races, but especially those who were working class, lower-middle class, and poor suffered the most from his devastating handiwork.

  34. I remember his name now: Robert Moses.

  35. @Columbusite -

    Fair enough. My apologies. I should've read the entire thing. But if it's culture not race, why mention race?

    As for the black church, first off, it's much more liberal than white conservative churches, so the distinction needs to be made. And lots of churches do a lot more good than just line the pastor's pockets. And again, as for the economic vs race, or culture vs race, the true issue isn't what the Black church is or isn't doing. It's the socio-economic status of the community.

    The destruction of even thriving black communities for highways happened nationwide. If NYC didn't do, it's not because of any since of racial equality.

    And having read your entire comment, it's still problematic. The issue I have with what you're saying is that you make observations about "all too many" blacks without acknowledging that it's still relatively few. Your take on majority black neighborhoods doesn't take into account, again, that it's the income that's the issue and not the race. First off, is it really even a majority black neighborhoods that fit your description, or just the ones that get the most attention. I've lived in the same 99% black neighborhood for over 27 years, and there's never been a gang. And the fact is, taking into account everything I know to be fact about the black community - the crime rate, the rate of poverty, importance of education, study habits, spending habits, etc and so on - I feel confident in same my neighborhood is much closer to the rule than the exception.

    So, basically, you as an individual may or may not think that blacks or whites equals. Assuming you do, and assuming you're a co-advocate for justice and equality, it wouldn't hurt if you were to read some books by actual sociologist - not Cosby - and look over the research of institutions and even the US govt. Much of what is held as common knowledge about the black community is false. We are no more or less criminal, academic, money-smart, etc and so on than anyone else. Where there are gaps, as hard as it is to believe, the problem is racism. Not culture, not the Church, none of that.

  36. Some information on Robert Moses (from Wikipedia, so you should take this with a grain of salt; however, the excerpts I have chosen are things that I have heard/read about him from other sources):

    However, his works remain extremely controversial. His critics claim that he preferred automobiles to people, that he displaced hundreds of thousands of residents in New York City, uprooted traditional neighborhoods by building expressways through them, contributed to the ruin of the South Bronx and the amusement parks of Coney Island, caused the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants Major League baseball teams, and precipitated the decline of public transport through disinvestment and neglect.

    At one time, one quarter of Federal construction dollars were being spent in New York, and Moses had 80,000 people working under him [citation needed]. Although he built playgrounds in vast numbers, almost none of those were located in Harlem. Similarly, the main aesthetic achievements of Riverside Drive and associated amenities were located south of 125th street, and a pattern of barriers to access for non-white citizens, whether steep stairs or busy highways, appears repeatedly in his public projects. Close associates of Moses claimed that they could keep African Americans from using pools in white neighborhoods by making the water too cold.[3][4] He actively precluded the use of public transit that would have allowed the non-car-owners to enjoy the elaborate recreation facilities he built. [4] After much litigation by private landowners, his highway projects on Long Island followed a circuitous path so as not to cross the properties of wealthy landowners such as J. P. Morgan, Jr., while those same highways demolished numerous working class neighborhoods throughout New York City.

    Moses knew how to drive, but because he didn't have a license, many sources say that he didn't know how to drive.[11] His view of the automobile was shaped by the 1920s, when the car was thought of as entertainment and not a utilitarian lifestyle. Moses' highways in the first half of the 20th century were parkways, curving, landscaped "ribbon parks," intended to be pleasures to drive in and "lungs for the city". While appearing utopian on its face, some critics contend Moses' vision of towers, cities and parks linked by cars and highways in practice led to the expansion of wholesale ghettos, decay, middle-class urban flight, and blight[citation needed]. Beginning in the 1960s and reaching a peak in the 1990s, public opinion and the ideals of many in the city planning profession shifted away from this strand of car-oriented thought.

    Irony is (and I have heard this before, see above) that Moses did not drive, did not know how, yet he made NYC ripe for it to be overrun by the automobile, even with its (for a US city) excellent subway/train and street car (now gone) system!

  37. Does anyone have any solutions? I see a lot of the same or similar themes, but no ideas for solving the problem.

    If you can only really afford a place that's being gentrified, what can you do? What if its a lot closer to your work or you like that it isn't all starbucks and mini-malls?

    Can you move there and participate in the community? Volunteer in schools and afterschool programs? Will you be accepted? Or hated? Can you become active to retain things about the community that's slowly being driven away?

  38. If you move to a gentrified neighborhood, just become part of the neighborhood. Volunteer there. Shop there. Sit out on the stoop and talk. Just be a good neighbor. Not the "fence" kind; the kind who invests in their community.

    To the extent that I'm guessing what you could maybe be asking, Beth, is whether people of color and black folks specifically will except neighbors of "privilege": 1 - read the post about the myth of black paranoia and ignore Isabelle's comments; 2 - black people are not hung up on revenge and don't spend our days hating white people; 3 - one thing that's really important to the black community is a person's participation and personal investment in their local community/neighborhood. So "giving back" will really endear you to your neighbors.

    OH! Here's where the "hate" comes in: if you roll in like you know everything; or, like you're too good to live there; or, like you know better than everybody else how to do anything else; all of which white Americans have a nasty habit of doing, you will be disliked.

  39. I really enjoyed no1kstate's final comment here. Be a part of the community - don't participate in changing it any more than it's already changing. Down here in south FL I moved in to a large Cuban community and I feel like I was privileged to be a part of it. I damn sure didn't go around forcing my whiteness on people and rejecting the long-standing cultural practices that existed there since before I was even born. I did my best to understand things. I learned Spanish, I talked to people in Spanish, I asked questions and genuinely got to know my neighbors as people - not just neighbors. I have never loved living somewhere more than that neighborhood and I'd buy a house there in a heartbeat if I could. I'd make sure that no white yuppie EVER came in and tried to change it.

    And I agree that there's no point in you moving out. You're just making room for a yuppie who knows absolutely nothing about Spanish Harlem to move in.

    This post is pretty old and I wonder if you have enjoyed living there now that you've been there a while.

  40. Thanks for the mention, Victoria. And thanks for "doing with" and not "doing for." That's a really great story I hope you share a lot.

    And now that you mention it, I'd like to know how d and the op'er are doing.

  41. Wow. Where do I begin? Here's what I can't understand: Although a gentrified neighborhood is "bad" for the long time poor residents, although it steals the social capital from them, it leaves those who remain with a better environment to live/work/play/grow up. If gentrification means raising taxes/rent and lowering crime, who wouldn't want it for themselves? I mean, higher taxes would generally mean a bigger budget for roads/infrastructure/government services, right? So who wouldn't want to live in a gentrified neighborhood instead of what amounts to the hood? How can the people being "gentrified" blame other people for wanting to better an area?

  42. @Flummoxed

    I'm flummoxed as to why you are flummoxed? Did you miss this entire section? It pretty much explains exactly how its a bad thing:

    Unfortunately, it turns out those benefits for the city come at a cost. A human one. Higher property taxes mean the current neighborhood residents can't afford their homes anymore. Higher rents on gentrified properties drive up rents of surrounding buildings, and landlords force out their tenants with inflated rents. People who have lived in these neighborhoods for generations suddenly have to find somewhere else to live. People become homeless. And when I say that gentrification changes the "character" of the neighborhood, what that usually means is that it makes the neighborhood "whiter."

    Or is being suddenly forced out of your home by rent hikes, or driven into homelessness, or finding yourself surrounded by a community of affluent whitefolks who, by virtue of their class and racial status, have the authority to harass you with impunity and restrict your movement in your own neighborhood your idea of a Good time?

  43. @Flummoxed (cont)

    Also, those who ARE left behind aren't exactly dancing a nonstop macarena either. It's very likely they struggle mightily to afford the higher rents, and again, POC will tend to have less mobility when living among Whiter and more Affluent neighbors. Whereas you were once able to come and go as you please, suddenly you find yourself getting pulled over in your own driveway.

    You seem to be saying that the extreme suffering of a certain few is worth it if it moderately improves the comfort of certain others.

    I'm hoping that you merely lack direct experience with the above. But that's some serious human empathy-lack right there!

  44. Not sure it is worth reviving an old thread (which I wasn't around for the first time) and Jane Laplain said it all so well, but surely it must be obvious that the problem is that the benefits to some are at the expense of others, and that the beneficiaries are affluent and white while the losers are neither. A different set of policies would impose the costs on affluent white people and provide benefits to lower income people of color, for example, another way to reduce crime and social problems would be to raise taxes on the affluent to provide housing rehab for current residents, job opportunities, and better community services for people in lower-income communities.

  45. @olderwoman: Given how thoughtful your posts are I assume that when you wrote

    "the beneficiaries are affluent and white while the losers are neither."

    you meant

    "the beneficiaries are primarily affluent and white while the losers, for the most part, are neither."

    One of my preferred SWPD could be defined as "assume people of color are poor".

  46. In olderwoman's defense, I don't think she's assuming all people of color are poor. I think she's saying that the losers are neither white nor affluent. So, it's something like all people of color lose, no matter they socioeconomic status, which I think is true; and, all poor people lose no matter their race, which I also think is true. Plus, she also states lower income people of color - I come away thinking she's making a distinction between lower income poc and middle/upper income poc.

    Also, I agree with her remedy.

    That's not to say that you, kevinrp, are wrong in pointing out that one thing SWPD is "assume people of color are poor." Cause that's absolutely true, too! I just don't think that's the case here.

    As for flummoxed, I agree with olderwoman that the benefits aren't worth the costs.

    Let's think about this, right? One reason affluent people of all races move into gentrified areas is that they're moving closer to jobs (If they're not moving from the burbs to the city, they're also not moving from the city to the burbs!), which are starting to shift from the suburbs to the cities. In a truly equitable, just, and restorative situation, those jobs would be going to those people of color who already live in the city.

  47. Kevinrp / no1kstate: I apologize for a sentence construction that could feed into the equation of poor and POC. I've read that some of the gentrification issues in Harlem involve affluent African Americans displacing lower income African Americans, and there are other cases in which lower-income Whites are displaced by affluent Whites. (Note I'm not claiming personal experience: I'm saying I've read about these cases.) As both of you suggest, another dynamic is the way racial hierarchy privileges Whites in the housing market, even comparing people of the same income level.

  48. I was very happy to find this blog and your incredibly thoughtful post. I'm an ex-Manhattan girl (regret the move to this day, because I could never afford to move back! It's been 30 years and I still miss it). But this weekend I saw my upstair's neighbor's daughter-in-law bragging on her FB page about staying at The Flophouse, and then another relative of theirs saying she lived in Harlem, too! I went to Cabrini HS and traveled everyday on the #4 bus from the East Side through Harlem and then on to Washington Heights. I had many good friends there. When I saw these posts from, I have to say, very white people (as am I), I was kind of stunned. So--and jah bless Google--I googled "when did Harlem become a cool place for white people to go and live in and visit?" Excepting Bill Clinton, right? Now I know. And it's what I suspected. I too have become somewhat trapped in a section of a NE city that I moved to for the rent but which became a target for gentrifiers. It hasn't been too successful, but successful enough to make me uncomfortable almost every day. And I never fool myself about why I'm here and why some other people here get pushed around a lot--and NEVER get shown the apartment upstairs or any other. A dilemma. You're facing it honestly and I like your integrity. I'm much much older. And I'm hoping I'll have a more natural solution to my own dilemma. I'm going to check up on some of my old friends. Hope they grabbed some of those neat townhouses. Their families sure worked their butts off.


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