Last week, ten blocks from my house, Officer DC Twiddy killed Akiel Denkins while attempting an arrest. Denkins's funeral and associated vigils and peaceful protests have proceeded much more calmly than protests in other cities. Still, the level of hurt and mistrust in the community is palpable.
The community grieves not just the loss of Denkins, but they mourn his life of frustrated potential. A life of frustrated potential is one that is unfortunately all too common in my neighborhood. The local economy is fairly strong, but finding work without connections remains a challenge. Generational poverty, structural injustices (such as poor public transit and dubious utility companies), gang and drug related violence, and broken families disproportionately affect the neighborhood on East and Bragg street. At the same time, forces of rapidly rising wealth sweeping in from the downtown and West parts of the city are leading to rapidly rising rents in the suboptimal housing.
To put this another way, single family homes that were built in the late 50s and 60s are being gutted and renovated, and rented out to people who look like, talk like and earn like me, which is forcing more of the long term but poorer residents of the city into the East and Bragg and surrounding suburban neighborhoods.
Bluntly, people like me have a high potential for contributing to the life of frustration that my neighbors experience.
So, what is the appropriate response when a gentrifier sees hurt in her community? I don't know if these are right, but these are my thoughts.
I didn't pay close attention to the part of urban economics wherein we discussed gentrification vs urban development. I was too busy mentally overhauling bus systems and theorizing on economies of location to be concerned with something that might be practical outside of my collegiate bubble.
Anyhow looking back at my notes, I think that gentrification is the process where new money enters an old community, and pushes out all the old residents and basically ruins their lives. Urban development, on the other hand, occurs when new or old money builds up the economic vitality of the neighborhood in a way that some people are forced out, but residents new and old benefit from greater economic intersections and economic opportunity.
The goal of new money entering a community should be urban development and not gentrification. I think the only way that urban development can really happen is through connections. Saying hi and chatting it up with the neighbors, accepting that Rob will always be, "That white guy who rides his bike", visiting the local park and community center, and asking neighbors if I should attend the city council meeting regarding the proposed change to the bus route.
Through personal connections we can learn if its okay that large groups of young black men standing around for hours at a time is okay (yes it is), and we can learn what type of drinking is okay to do in public (the kind where you don't wander around) and what isn't. We can learn how to respectfully request that the music be turned down, and when that would be a stupid request (The Fourth of July and Memorial Day).
In many areas of the country, it makes sense for gentrifiers to support entrepreneurs in their new area, but we don't have many full blown entrepreneurs. Instead, we've got microentrepreneurs who need support just as much as people with a brick and mortar front.
Microentrepreneurs are the people who work to get ahead, and they have strong ties to the community. They are the car detailers, the handyman, the car repair guys, the lady selling hot dogs out of her house, and the kids selling bottled water and soda at the park. Microentrepreneurs give a viable alternative to the less seemly forms of microentrepreneurship (such as the sale of stolen goods or selling drugs). The more microentrepreneurs there are, the more likely that new money can help the community.
Rob and I don't go out of our way to support these microentrepreneurs, but when we find that we have a need that someone in the neighborhood can meet, we visit them first.
The final responsibility of the gentrifier is to give generously to causes that matter in the community. In our neighborhood, the largest recognized need is the need for people to have access to safe exercise spaces. That is the reason that our neighborhood association levied so hard for new lightbulbs on the street lights, but its also the reason that almost every community based organization wants to build an indoor basketball court, a weight room or a soccer field.
As gentrifiers, we can pretty easily get behind efforts that aid our community's health and well being. Kids shouldn't have to go 3-4 miles for the nearest soccer field when local parks and community centers want to give it to them. Single moms shouldn't have to choose between a thirty minute workout and a safe place for their kids to play when local churches are willing to give them both if there were enough volunteers to watch the kids.
From both a time and a money perspective, we have a lot of opportunities to give generously and effectively in a way that will help our neighbors.
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.