Who is Gentrification Actually Helping?
What comes to mind when you hear the word gentrification?
Your mind may immediately depart from a place of safety and security, only to find itself at a destination surrounded by ill-fated words such as displacement, eviction, and homelessness. With this air of negativity surrounding your mind as it floats into an ominous space, so will your thoughts.
As an exercise, those were the first words and images I thought of when it came to gentrification. But what is gentrification and how did the term come to life?
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British sociologist, Ruth Glass coined the term in the mid-1960s to describe the influx of young professionals settling in London’s working-class borough of Islington, which was predominantly made up of West Indian immigrants. (Sounds like Brooklyn, don’t it?) Glass took the word gentry–defined as wellborn and well-bred people in England, a class below nobility–and she did a little word formation to give birth to gentrification.
By contrast, if you were to search for synonyms for the word gentrify you would find words suggesting that a welcomed and much-needed resurrection was taking place. e.g., reinvigorate, reestablish, spruce, exhilarate, stimulate, etc. These are the words insidiously synonymous with the word gentrify. (If you’re curious, the antonyms included ruin, depress, discourage, and destroy. Biased much?) Even a 2014 Curbed article by writer, Steven Thomson postulated that the prevalence of the word gentrification in Times articles “parallels periods of prosperity, underscoring the close connection between gentrification and consumerism.”
Obviously, the term, like any other phrase or word, has a different meaning for everyone. Some, unaffected and benefitting from this unethical change, however detrimental to a disadvantaged community, will view gentrification in a positive light and embrace it (Hi, Becky!) Only those who view gentrification as a predominant negative, or the individual(s) with an open mind who can see the negative aspects of such a reformation of urbanization, and its effects on the groups most adversely impacted, are able to see the reason why the soon-to-be-gentrified house the anxieties and resentful feelings of a people living with the knowledge of their foreboding eradication. Thus, we have a divide.
The parallels between gentrification and colonization are evident. The treatment of the people being displaced reads like the legends of warrior-heroes invading dangerous, faraway lands, and pillaging it from the savages in Greek mythology. As of December 2017, BBC reports that homelessness in the U.S. is at nearly 25 percent of what it was during The Great Depression.
With all this in mind, could you blame someone if this knowledge evokes a certain disdain for those alien to our land and our neighborhoods?
If the hood evolves organically, as a safer and productive place for the community, while maintaining its history, no one would be complaining. It just so happens that we’re being displaced and our history is being erased…again (If you know; you know.).
So what does one do when they’re on the wrong side of a losing battle, and inexperienced in the type of warfare designed to favor the Goliath? You take a step back and analyze the situation and your opponent. Then you fling a rock at his head and hope for the best.
If you feel strongly about this issue, I suggest that you do what you can with whatever talent or skills that you may possess, utilizing the platforms or mediums that you have access to in order to shed light on this issue.
Me? I’m going to attempt to document the pervasive demolition and yipster transformation of the neighborhood I was born and raised in, Washington Heights. I’ll provide personal insight into places in my hood that no longer exist, what they meant to me, and what they have now become.
Stay tuned (or not).
Photo Credit: Enrique Grijalva