By: Olivia Langol-Leonard (Correspondent)
Seventy-one of New York neighborhoods transitioned between 1990 and 2016 from low-income areas to areas where the median household income, at $140,000 was greater than 200 percent of the regional median. From subways infested with broken heroin needles, crack addicts and crime, to wealthy white 20-year-olds throwing rooftop parties with no worry of violence, there is an apparent cultural shift in many urban areas. But is this change one for the better?
The people who once lived there and had their own community are now nothing but a distant memory for those who choose to remember. The neighborhood was not good enough for these affluent people two decades before; so what changed?
One word, gentrification; the process by which an urban neighborhood that has become dangerous, poor or undesirable, becomes “discovered” by privileged outsiders who move in to recover the neighborhood and transcend its decrepitude. Gentrification offers positive benefits to communities economically–from increased home values to lower crime rates– but those benefits pale when compared to the uncertain future of the neighborhoods’ original inhabitants, predominantly people of color, who worked, lived and raised their families there.
Those who visit or pass through “up and coming” neighborhoods view the positive shifts and renovations in the architectural scenery and cultural climate, and depart with the notion that those spots are changing for the better.
Externally this is the case, as developers implement and integrate factors honed for success into the once downtrodden neighborhoods. They cannot see it how renowned African American author, Ta-Nehisi Coates does in “The Case For Reparations,” because to these outsiders ignorance is bliss. They do not see these neighborhoods as the government’s sorry excuse for reparations. They do not notice the underlying racism through subtle means: unaffordable raises in rents, high-priced mortgages and increased prices of necessary goods. Regardless, they must appreciate black culture and the people in these neighborhoods, not price people out and then appropriate their culture and their history under a Starbucks or Whole Foods.
The difference between gentrification versus integration is appropriation versus appreciation. It must be said that the intention of the cessation of gentrification is not segregation; it is about maintaining the originality that once flourished throughout American cities while keeping neighborhoods safe for those people who have lived there for a long time, as well as integrating residents of two or more realities.
People are never going to stop moving; it is inevitable, especially in a place like New York City. In the past, when one person moved out of a neighborhood, a person not unlike them moved in, but in today’s world of gentrification, this is not the case. Like most societal issues there is not one single factor that can be changed immediately, but every reversal begins with an ideological shift. In this case, new residents should migrate into a neighborhood with the intention of becoming a part of the already existing community, not to build a new community when they get there. To have this awareness, possible gentrifiers must think about what they, as individuals, will contribute to the current community they are considering moving into.
The streets of Brooklyn and places like Harlem encapsulate and epitomize black history because so many inspirational and influential figures were “rose[s] that grew from the concrete” (Tupac Shakur). The legacies of Basquiat, Zora Neale Hurston, Biggie Smalls, Louis Armstrong, and W.E.B. Dubois live on among the streets of Brooklyn and Harlem, so if their old neighborhoods lose people who are connected to them by race, class and culture, their history will be lost too.
If gentrification continues, cities like New York will lose their authenticity by being so overpriced and commercialized that, at a certain point, only the most affluent residents will be able to live in such beautiful places.
Neighborhoods that have fallen on hard times can only be revitalized by the process of controlled integration through allowing for new residents to feel as if they are as much a part of the existing community as those who have already worked, lived and raised their families there. They do not need powerful external forces controlling the fate of their successes; they just need opportunities without the fear of losing their communities.