Dear Listeners, we were SO encouraged by your humility in approaching gentrification and the thoughtful questions we received after this month’s interview with Leroy Barber!
We realized after the fact that we left you with little to no tangible "now what?" action steps. So sorry! I (Lindsy) thought it would be helpful to collect some of the questions/answers/next steps here on the blog. Thank you for engaging this complex topic with us with grace and humility!
Q1: I totally get what you're saying about new sidewalks, green spaces, etc. being a signal from the government to investors, but what would you say to people who then respond "So you're saying no one should make any effort to make neighborhoods populated by socio-economically disadvantaged people any nicer? Are you saying it's best to just leave them full of trash with crappy schools?”
A1: Uhm, no. One of the many problems and complicating factors with gentrification is it is often cloaked in goodness. Parks are good. Grocery stores are good. Sidewalks are good. These things are, in and of themselves, good for a neighborhood. The problem, as Leroy pointed out in our interview, is these things are not intended to better the life of the residents currently living there. They are a signal to developers to drop their dollars in that neighborhood and the government will have their back in the way of tax incentives, upzoning, etc.
So the question isn’t “Shouldn’t we try to improve low-income communities?” because duh, we should. (Although there are issues with the word “we”, which I’ll get to later.) The questions we should be asking are, “What are we doing to protect those low-income residents from being displaced in the process of revialization? How are we ensuring they are not taken advantage of and pushed out by slumlords? Do our tenant laws need to be strengthened? Should our city impose rent caps? Are our city and county officials on the side of the people or the side of the developer? Are they planning to upzone the neighborhood? How will these improvements affect the most marginalized? Who are they for?”
Unfortunately, the revitalization signaling that takes place from governments to developers is simply the reality. As Christians, our role is figuring out how to disrupt that reality so our brothers and sisters on the margins are ensured safe housing.
Q2: I’ve moved into a neighborhood without doing much research and got here to realize it's being gentrified. As a white woman moving into what was a predominantly non-white neighborhood, I now feel guilty and like I'm feeding into the problem. For any other urban dwellers, what are some practical things the average Christ follower can do to avoid feeding into the gentrification process even after we’ve moved in?
A2: This is a tough reality for you but not unredeemable. I truly think we must begin with learning the history of a place and listening to the people who have lived there for generations. We often skip over these steps because they do not feel “practical” and we want to “do something,” however, this is where we must begin. With that being said, here are a few suggestions for next steps if you live in a gentrifying neighborhood:
If you bought your house and plan to do upgrades, do so in a way that honors the culture and architectural style of the neighborhood. Don’t change the face of the neighborhood by changing the face of your home.
Buy local. Frequent the family owned taco truck, the guy selling BBQ out of the back of his pick-up, the barbershop, and the corner store. Put your gentry where your mouth is. Not only does this improve the local economy and directly impact your neighbors, it also creates organic interactions with the people you now live among. Relationships are the foundation and the catalyst for any good you will do in your place.
If there's a local Business Improvement District (BID), insist they hire local employees.
If your neighbors have a first language other than English, learn it.
Engage in activities that create and value community. Potluck dinners, playing at the local park, waving hello and speaking someone else's first language are small but meaningful ways to resist the narrative that wealth and whiteness are better and preferred.
Q3: I know gentrification is a complicated issue with many contributing factors, but I really want to do my part in helping break the oppressive cycle that is occurring. How do I (as a white woman) help fight against gentrification?
A3: This is a difficult question to answer because our individual contexts will guide the good each of us can do in our places.
As I said earlier, we must begin with learning the history of our place and listening to the people who live there. When we moved to Miami, we spent a year listening to and learning from our neighbors before we stepping out in any real “action”. It was difficult, but I believe the most respectful way of engaging a place and people.
As majority culture people, it's all too easy for us to jump in with our own solutions and demand change, but we are not the experts, nor are we the answer. The experts are those living the injustices each day. They hold the solutions, and I believe they are the ones who will lead us all to a more liveable planet.
A few things you can do no matter where you are:
Q4: Is gentrification ever not on purpose?
A4: Yes, but no. Yes, there are well meaning people who move into a neighborhood because they can afford the rent and in no way intend to displace folks who have lived there for years. But, at some point we have to take an honest look at the effects of our choices and not just the intent of them. Our intent may be one thing, but we are still responsible for the effects of the choices we make and how they impact others.