The landscape has changed. A vandalized shell of a building is now a new coffee shop, a nice jazz club or a high-end clothing boutique. Places that were once known for drugs, crime and projects, now have city gardens and Whole Foods stores – and they now have white folks.
For the past decade, gentrification has been a hot-button issue, as our major cities give way to reinvestment and revitalization. Be that as it may, the question looms: Is there room for Blacks and low-income residents to benefit from the reinvention of our cities?
Places that were once examples of urban decay – Northern Liberties in Philadelphia, Mission District in San Francisco, Shaw in Washington, D.C., Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant in New York, and Detroit’s Midtown– are now hip, cool and increasingly white.
“When it comes to gentrification, Blacks have no one to blame but ourselves,” said a high-level official in the NAACP. “No one told us to sell our homes or leave them abandoned or to stop paying our property taxes. We had the same opportunity as everyone else to hold on to what was once ours. So I say (forget) them. Negroes should have known better.”
As harsh as it sounds, I have to agree with him. When we move into white neighborhoods, we call it diversity. Yet, when whites move into our neighborhoods, it’s called gentrification. The complaints about well-educated white people buying up houses in low-income minority neighborhoods, making housing unaffordable for the original residents and forcing them out is more myth than reality. A number of studies have shown that gentrification is not so, well, Black and white.
Late last year, Daniel Hartley, a research economist with the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland, released findings that gentrification is actually financially beneficial to the original residents of a low-income neighborhood. Hartley studied credit scores in the gentrifying neighborhoods of 55 cities and found the numbers went up for original residents, whether they owned property or rented.
And Lance Freeman, director of the urban planning program at Columbia University, studied urban neighborhoods nationwide and found that low-income residents moved out of gentrifying neighborhoods at the same rate as they did non-gentrifying neighborhoods. Freeman also found that gentrification opened up neighborhoods to college-educated minorities. In other words, well-educated African-Americans and Hispanics were just as likely to move to a gentrified neighborhood as well-educated whites. So how do we accurately define a gentrified neighborhood?
Kay Hymowitz, who writes about gentrification, looked at the Brooklyn neighborhood Bedford-Stuyvesant—the current epicenter for gentrification in New York City—and found the answer hard to identify.
The Black population dropped from 81.9 percent in 1990 to 64.6 percent in 2010.
However, the neighborhood’s Hispanic population grew slightly from 16.3 percent to 19.9 percent in the same time period. And while the number of whites moving in has soared, they still only make up 10.9 percent of the population; meanwhile, the number of college-educated Blacks moving to Bedford-Stuyvesant has increased.
The gentrifying neighborhood still struggles with many urban problems: poverty (30.7 percent of the population was below the poverty line in 2010), poor education (60 percent of students don’t read at their grade levels), and high crime (the precinct’s crime rates are among the worst in New York City). Not exactly winning numbers for a gentrified neighborhood. Most importantly, what’s wrong with the reinvestment and renewal of debilitated urban neighborhoods?
As neighborhoods gentrify, buildings will be sold, landlords will raise rents, and some people will be forced out. In an ideal world, Blacks would understand the marketplace, build their own grocery stores, coffee shops, state-of-the-art gyms and yoga studios and demand a serious police presence. In an ideal world, this would not be an issue.
We have been our own worst enemy. We chose to abandon our neighborhoods. We chose to move to the suburbs. We chose to let our communities end up in disarray. Thus, we can’t get upset when developers, builders or white folks for that matter, want to move into our neighborhoods, buy properties we once owned at bargain basement prices, rehab them, and sell them for astronomical profits.
Zack Burgess is an award winning journalist, who is the Director/Owner of OFF WOODWARD MEDIA, LLC, where he works as a Writer, Editor and Communications Specialist. Twitter: @zackburgess1
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.