There Goes the Neighborhood

Got into a disagreement about gentrification at church today.  Even tho we supposedly welcome a variety of views in our congregation, I guess I am always surprised when certain views clash so much.

This woman was critical of our church's position against gentrification.  Her argument seemed to be that she lives in Columbia Heights and she's happy that she can now walk to a Starbucks at night and surf the web on her laptop.    I said that was great for her, but what about the people who have been living in this neighborhood for decades and are being forced out now by the high prices, who can't afford Starbucks and laptops?  To which she said something about how you don't need to pay in order to sit in Starbucks and how she got her laptop as a hand-me-down.  She then went on about how she's a starving student, she's "poor," failing to understand that education is a kind of wealth.

Clearly, it is a good thing that crime has gone down in Columbia Heights.  When I lived there, there was a time when I heard gun shots on a regular basis and the Violent Response Unit truck often parked outside my door.  (Literally parked, as in an empty van sitting there for days taking up a valuable parking space.)  Clearly, residents have the right to feel safe on their streets.  Living there, I always knew I had a choice, that I could leave if I truly wanted to, unlike many other residents.  It is a good thing that crime has gone down.

Related to crime, no one wants a neighborhood to stay in poverty, where there is little access to essential services like groceries and banks and other stores.  Clearly, it is more pleasant to live in a neighborhood where one can walk to restaurants and coffee-shops, and where there are local jobs to be had.

But just as the streets become safer and vital services are opening up, that's when the people who have lived here the longest are being driven out.  If they are driven out, then they are driven out to other neighborhoods with high crime and lacking services.  What benefit is gentrification to them?  

Gentrification is not the same thing as economic development.  Nearly everyone wants economic development, for the reasons listed above.    To not want these things is to say that people who live in these neighborhoods do not have the right to safety and opportunity.  Gentrification is development of the buildings, etc, while pushing the people who live there out.  It is an invasion.  Colonization of resources (cheap land) for the benefit of those who have.  Damn straight that my church opposes gentrification.

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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative