I’m glad I read “How to Kill A City” by Peter Moskowitz before starting this program. The book centers around gentrification and inequality and its effects on the cities of New Orleans, Detroit, San Francisco and New York. The writings on each city offer perspectives on gentrification and its effects in the four cities. Each situation is different but shares similar stories and messages.
This post was never going to cover all of gentrification. It’s too big of a topic to cover in one blog post or even one book but I wanted to share my perspective and reaction to what I’ve learned from the book and this program.
What is Gentrification?
There are varied viewpoints on this issue which can even be found in definitions of gentrification.
According to google gentrification is:
“the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste”.
According to dictionary.com gentrification is:
“the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper- or middle-income families or individuals, raising property values but often displacing low- income families and small businesses”.
Moskowitz writes about gentrification in New York with the following passage:
“By the early 2010s nearly everyone had heard of the term, and nearly no one had a precise definition, but it nonetheless adequately described what was happening: the displacement, the loss of culture, the influx of wealth and whiteness into New York’s neighborhoods.”
Gentrification is a complex and systematic problem that I don’t think many people are aware of or understand. It can’t be explained in one sentence, post or book and its effects are profound and costly not just on an economic scale but a personal one.
I have to acknowledge my privilege. I come from a white middle class family living in the suburbs. I didn’t grow up in Detroit and I haven’t faced this issue firsthand. Further, I applied for and got the opportunity to be a part of this program which came with free (to me not the program) housing on Wayne States campus in the highly gentrified Midtown area of Detroit. I don’t know the struggle of paying rent in midtown but the following I wrote after learning about gentrification through reading and interacting with residents.
Imagine you’ve lived in Detroit your entire life. You’ve been there for 45 years in the same neighborhood. You pay your rent every month for your apartment but it keeps going up and up. New trendy restaurants and stores are popping up around you that are putting the longtime stores out of business and yet the new stores are so expensive that you can’t afford to shop or eat there. The press is going wild about how great the “New Detroit” is. How white saviors are coming in and “revitalizing the city”. They don’t look like you and they don’t care about the neighborhood. Your friends and family are slowly moving away as they can’t afford to live there anymore and the culture of the neighborhood is dying. Nobody says hello to you on the street anymore, you don’t know your neighbors anymore and no one helps each other like they used to.
Where you’ve lived all your life doesn’t even look the same anymore. There are just faint traces of the place you loved. You miss it and are coming to the realization that your home is being taken from you so that richer white people can take the space. All because it’s become “cool” to live in the city you’ve been supporting for your entire life.
What hurts even more is that everyone thinks this is a good thing. The messages don’t say that these “saviors” are destroying the culture and neighborhood and forcing non-whites, poor people and longtime residents out but that they are “revitalizing”, “saving” and “creating” a “New Detroit”.
You can’t help but wonder where these people were before white rich people wanted to live here. Do they really care about revitalizing the city? Or are they just doing it now because its profitable and “cool”.
I’m glad I read the book before starting. I don’t think I would have understood what was happening nearly as well. As a member of this program I get an interesting perspective on gentrification because I see both sides every day.
I get to live on Wayne State’s campus the highly gentrified midtown area. I’ve eaten at the trendy restaurants and experienced a lot of the gentrified places in midtown and there’s a lot of it I personally like but I know it comes at a cost.
I also work with Nortown CDC in Northeast Detroit. Working there I get to see what I think of as “the real Detroit”. I interact with a lot of people who are a part of the low income housing program Nortown Homes that shares office space with Nortown CDC. I’ve also been to meetings trying to support low income housing projects that are also working towards getting the residents in a position to be home owners.
While in the program I’ve interacted with people who are frustrated and talking about the gentrification in the neighborhood and how they now hate it here and are being forced out.
At a Third Thursday Event at the Detroit Historical Museum I heard from people who are for and against gentrification. At the same event I got to hear the community response to it. I find myself siding strongly with the community. I think gentrification is wrong and think the portrayal of it needs to change. No one talks about the human side and the negatives that come with it. About how we are funneling non-whites and poor people out so that rich white people can have whatever real estate they want. It’s racist and wrong.
As a Public Health student we are taught and I believe in “meeting the people where they are”. We need to be helping the people in the city instead of using a systemic process to force them out so that others can make the city seem “better” and “improved”.
I’m sick of this country ignoring people and issues instead of working to solve the difficult problems. Whether it be our healthcare system, gentrification, racism, mental health, gun control, immigration or any of the other issues of which there are too many to mention. The mythology of this country is that we are the “greatest country in the world”. I think it’s about time we started acting like it. We should be taking on issues and helping people instead of hurting and hiding them. Facing challenges instead of running from them. I’m not saying that some people aren’t, there are certainly dedicated people and groups in this country fighting for what’s right and I’m working to be one of them. However, we need more people to fight to help people not corporations and improve these issues instead of ignoring them.