When discussing social phenomena, there are various ways to approach it. One can talk around a matter, or analyze it by looking at more than one side. Gentrification is one issue, that no matter what, people will continue to discuss passionately. Attempting to belittle the experiences of those who have been most impacted by these economic changes.
To make it more explicit, this writer is referring to a piece written in Slate titled “The Myth of Gentrification” In reading through the piece, I find it dismissive and tone deaf. You are welcome to read it for yourself, but that is my assessment. From the very beginning, the sub-title says that gentrification is “not as bad for the poor as you think” Okay. Did the writer ever ask any of “the poor” about their experiences?
The author consults economists, sociologists, but has little to say of those who are directly affected by this economic change. Charts and graphs can say much, but they do not substitute for people’s lived experiences. Talking honestly about gentrification requires us to go beyond this window dressing.
It means honestly talking about unsavory practices by greedy landlords, harassment by housing officials, and open, deliberate neglect.
It means discussing the increased police presence that often accompanies gentrification and what that represents in communities of color that are already over-policed to begin with.
It means exploring the reality that resources that pour into neighborhoods that were not there before are often not brought with the intention of improving the entire community- but meant to cater to newer, more affluent residents. It is much deeper than any passing snide remark made about the new bistro or coffee shop that took over the mom and pop grocery store. To many, gentrification amounts to what resembles high intensity economic warfare.
No amount of deflecting will change that in the minds of those who experience gentrification first hand. Another glaring problem with much of the discourse is that, it often overlooks the lived experiences of working class people. Rendered voiceless, invisible, and irrelevant, the people who find themselves pushed out economically also find their voices marginalized in the conversation.
Residents resent that it takes new people to come in for the community to receive desperately needed resources. The fact that this occurs means that its not a matter of whether it was possible to improve the lives of people in deprived areas, it confirms that the political and economic will was the factor. That is a sore point of contention, that will not be papered over by retiring the term gentrification.
What should be retired, is this notion that not discussing the matter in a pre determined way will resolve matters. As long as the costs of living rises while pay does not, there will always be those who are more affected by deliberate price gouging. As long as people use the cover of a “melting pot” to justify gentrification, it will only lead to more deflection. That is what we need less of, if we are to address the problem.
-Marc W. Polite