Taking our buses to work, maybe looking at the news on our phones, probably awkwardly avoiding eye contact with fellow riders, we can all relate. Every day the bus bumps over the potholes and sewer openings, the driver grumpy, the riders sleepy. It may seem that every day is the same as the last. But things are changing. Sometimes that second stop was so ordinary it could be hard to remember the street name; did we just go by Selby, or was that Marshall. Today though was different. The flashy suits contrasted with the cloth seats, the designer clothes that were made to look less designer started being the norm. And that boring corner is now all flashy windows and balconies now. Now, instead of the boring game of evasive eyes, the conversations are being heard of bar hopping, drinking with friends, the banking internship, and trips to the exotic. And time allowed it to happen to us all of a sudden. Things are much different.
This is not an essay on new bus partners. This change of look in our neighborhoods is more malevolent than it first appears. Experts, politicians, and a surprised public have been part of a debate for seemingly since the beginning of Obama’s first term. We can all remember the economy in tatters and the hurt that came with it. In time we left the recession behind. So long! I think most of us got on with our lives because it seemed there was light on the horizon. However, decisions were being made around us which we did not sign up for. The old café down the block was renovated; it seemed more upscale now. Looks like this neighborhood is classing up! A new bar was opening by the park downtown; I should bring my wife there one of these weekends. Did you see the new apartment complex on 7th? Looks amazing; I wonder what’s the rent? These questions were innocuous, but there was almost a positive mood about them because the recession was gone, and things were getting better. But two years later, there was another apartment on 7th, and the corner store you went to for 20 years was closing. This neighborhood is really changing now. Five new bars opened at the park downtown, and they sure were getting busy on Friday and Saturday night. The grungy place you liked to eat a few times a month was renovated, and the menu was different.
What was happening here? All of a sudden, these little changes were becoming the norm, and more importantly, the food wasn’t as good. And there was an awful lot of young people around now, more beards, more summer dresses. And all of a sudden it wasn’t so fun anymore, because something seemed wrong. Fusion was a word popping up everywhere it seemed, along with cold press and micro brew. The landlord sent a notice; rent was going up, to keep pace with the market. And what seemed really strange, but there seemed to be more homeless people as well. What was happening here?
You had always loved living in the city, with the smells and the people, and as it turns out, some new people liked to live in the city as well. Only they didn’t like the 1950’s era building you lived in, or the grungy restaurant that was always pretty good. Your neighbors were the first to go; a note on the front of the building was saying it was bought by a company you never heard of. A month later it was leveled. You asked your family friend from there where they were going, and he said they were staying with his sister. There was a pile driver that summer keeping you up later than usual. The new neighbors weren’t very friendly; they didn’t even bother with evasive eyes on the bus! You feel older now, like maybe you weren’t dressing right or maybe your spending habits were wrong. It was all a bit uneasy.
There was a lot more laughter and conversations now on the sidewalk, but you didn’t feel happier. Actually, things seemed better a few years ago. Should I see a psychiatrist?
The city was always good to live in because you could meet, be friends with people of other races and religions. But the neighborhood was starting to remind you of the suburbs where you grew up. Am I behind the times?
Because there’s an uneasiness there now. You would read the newspaper about a booming downtown, and a few rave restaurant reviews from a new supper club, and feel like you should be happy for the times. But for some reason you aren’t. You get another rent notice from the landlord; rent will be going up to $895 next month. You didn’t get your raise this year. All of a sudden things weren’t okay. The laughter outside you greeted with a grimace. You began to hate the new bars and especially the word fusion. The city wasn’t the same anymore.
Let me tell you that this feeling you are having is not wrong. The experts may point to gentrification as growing pains of a developing neighborhood. But as anyone who as ever watched the weather can tell you, the experts are rarely right. This is an issue of the everyman versus the new generation. This new generation seems to emote moral superiority in many ways, but brush away this layer of paint and you can find a sociopath within. A group that looks like your remembrance of the suburbs, but who emote no empathy for those lesser off. This is gentrification.
This is not okay. And if you are participating in this gentrification, it is not okay. If you want to live in a luxury development, stay in the suburbs with your luxurious friends. Your gentrification raises rents on surrounding apartment complexes and drives out historic businesses. To put it bluntly, you add nothing to the community.
We judge third world cities on their grand slums, but little did we know that we are doing similar things with a more pleasant name. Gentrification: new wealth and residents displacing the poorer residents before. Slumification: creating impoverished communities, separate from the middle and upper classes. In our case one leads to another, and it’s about time our leaders find the courage to deal with our problems, or else face the axe by the voters.