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Your Part in the Gentrification Problem

What is gentrification?

Likely the response is something like, “White people moving into poor neighborhoods,” or “Devaluing a neighborhood so that developers can buy cheap and sell high.” describes it as the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste.

In all of these definitions, the bigger issue is missing. The biggest issue with gentrification is not necessarily the buyers and victims of the neighborhood. It’s that city policy often fuels it in the first place. Instead of us calling it for what it is, we calmly participate while simultaneously blaming each other.

Gentrification is a child of capitalism. Regardless your feelings about a capitalistic system, you are a key player if you live within the system. This is why gentrification is often masked as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for those who buy the horrible neighborhood and improve it for profit. It’s an opportunity for the new renters and purchasers in the shiny neighborhood to stay in the “new, cool” area. And putting poor people out is just how it is. Seriously, ask around, you will get these responses, because we’ve already bought into the freedom of capitalism.

What we tend to overlook is that our very own city, state and federal policies not only turn a blind eye, but often help disenfranchise entire neighborhoods for the benefit of gentrification. For example, the construction of Dallas’s Central Expressway splitting the neighborhood of States-Thomas in two. The construction of Charlotte’s, Independence Boulevard built in the middle of the Brooklyn neighborhood. Kinloch, Missouri was also dismantled for the building of Lambert International Airport.

Neighborhood slaughtering construction projects occur all over this country in the middle of thriving, rooted communities. Sometimes its simply branded a flood zone until the residents move and miraculously said area has been rezoned. Then there’s always the inability for the city to provide services, such as a water main or sufficient city lights in a particular community, until the appropriate residents’ homes have been bulldozed and the right developer comes in. We can’t forget how simple, safety lights and exit ramps have been avoided in certain neighborhoods, that is until new residents move in.

These plans do not happen overnight. They’re usually decades in the making. Usually, these changes appear to be much simpler than full-blown construction project. They begin to occur when you’re in grade school and you seem not to notice the transformation until you’ve returned home from college. They look like the local Wal-Mart moving two miles up the road and slowly the businesses around it relocate too. Then somehow the tenants that lived in the area flock to the new apartments built around the corner. The pot holes aren’t fixed as often and there could be a few mishaps on trash pick-up days. A few neighbors move out and the homes are bought by unseen investors who don’t have the pride of live-in homeowners. Your home is now worth a fraction of it was twenty years ago. Should you get out now, or wait and hope for the best? (Hopefully this didn’t happen to you during a recession because you’re likely cash strapped.) Sooner or later you hear something to the tune of, “there goes the neighborhood”. Then seemingly right on cue, the right people come to save the day with their Revitalization Program.

The ugly G word is a result of years of planning and policy making. Involvement to change gentrification happens decades before the new developers move in. It’s almost impossible to avoid if your family does not intend to remain rooted in their community. If you truly care about gentrification, I encourage you to look beyond the surface level. If there are people moving out, find out why. Have they fought the good fight so long that they no longer have the ability to fight anymore? Are they cash strapped and have resolved to cut their losses? Is the younger generation well informed on the struggles that occurred before them and the policies being laid for the future? Most importantly, who has the most to gain from the revitalized neighborhood and to whose expense?

If you think you don’t like gentrification, ask yourself if you’re building a community to sustain for generations to come or if that’s too much work for little ol’ you. Do you prefer to live in the hip neighborhood because it’s new, everything is already there and the property values are amazing? Because the hip neighborhood is usually built on top of a destroyed rooted community and your need to be there helped demolish it.

For more information from Neka Ragsdale, go to

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