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For years I swore off the neighborhoods I grew up in. I was cautioned about them as a child and as a young adult I felt no different. A recent (and reluctant) visit, however, revealed the once crime-infested streets had completely transformed. Quaint coffee shops now lined the Brooklyn sidewalks along with wine bars, beer gardens and Japanese restaurants with names I dare not try to pronounce—a far cry from the Kennedy Fried Chickens, takeout Chinese spots and bodegas that once lined the blocks. As I strolled, I crossed paths with everyone from Rastafarians to Black sisters with lush fros, from White couples on bikes to Latino children frolicking on their front steps. It was like some sort of racial utopia.

I stopped a White man in his late twenties and asked what he thought of the neighborhood. “Oh, it’s great! They’re a lot of people like me and you—a lot of yuppies,” he said. I noted the unifying “me and you” but also the way it was simultaneously inclusive and exclusive. It was the first time I’d ever been called a yuppie (young urban professional)—which clearly separated “us” (me and the White brother) from the less “affluent” inhabitants. But as far as I had known, “yuppie” and “gentrification” were dirty words. I thanked him for his time and continued to survey the neighborhood. Other residents (of all shades) confirmed the neighborhood “had gotten so much better.”

I couldn’t help but wonder why “better” was synonymous with “whiter.” There wasn’t anything wrong with the White faces that now resided in the community. But why did it take White residents with presumably higher incomes to have more police patrolling the streets or healthier food options like juice bars or organic markets?

While gentrification can be considered progress and development, it’s primarily so for those of us who can afford it. The truth of the matter is that gentrification cannot be spoken about without addressing displacement. As rents go up, poor residents get pushed out. Areas that were laden with drugs and violence—that were avoided like the plague—are now hip and up-and-coming.

Tension always seems to arise when it comes to the movement of more affluent settlers (typically White) to or from not-so-affluent neighborhoods (typically Black). When gentrification wasn’t the issue, it was “White flight” (Whites fleeing communities when more Blacks moved in). It raises the question of whether a racial utopia can ever truly exist.

Some studies argue that while the higher cost of living sometimes ousts poor residents from gentrifying neighborhoods, the increase in jobs, safety and improved neighborhood upkeep encourage them to stay. Research found a resident’s chances of being forced to move out of a gentrifying neighborhood are only 0.5% greater than in a non-gentrifying one. Critics, however, argue that these studies underestimate how many people are actually displaced as a result of gentrification.

Proponents of gentrification suggest that neighborhood demographics change primarily due to high turnover rates (over five years, about half of all urban residents move). More affluent people tend to move into these neighborhoods simply because they can afford it. Lance Freeman, an associate professor of urban planning at Columbia University, calls this “succession” as opposed to “displacement.” Freeman and other researchers also found that these neighborhoods often have vacant or abandoned housing so there’s no need to evict anyone in order to accommodate people who want to move in.

Whether or not society has this inflated view of the harm gentrification actually does to communities and its residents, it’s clear that this resistance originates from fear. Individuals worry about no longer being able to provide for their families and are concerned about losing the familiarity of their neighborhood.

To alleviate these concerns we must insist the government continually create affordable housing and more jobs. New business owners must also seek to hire local residents. Policymakers can propose legislation that requires developers to make a percentage of their properties affordable. Additionally, we can demand equitable development, which emphasizes the advantages of mixed-income communities and empowers residents. Residents (both newcomers and natives) can also organize grass-roots efforts to ensure that landlords and property owners are not exploiting tenants.

In a true utopia, we wouldn’t have to wait for affluent Whites (and Blacks) to move in before living conditions improved. These needs would already be addressed. In a true utopia, there would be no “them versus us” mentality, which only perpetuates antagonism and resistance to more integrated communities and exacerbates the notion of a threat.

Before I was ever considered a yuppie, a buppie or whatever you want to call it, I was a Caribbean immigrant. Before I attended an elite high school and college, I was an overcrowded New York public school student. And to this day, those things are just as much a part of me. WE must come together to ensure that none of US are overlooked.

Because regardless of how much a community’s demographics changes, you can’t change people’s perceptions…or maybe you can.

For information about promoting the availability of affordable housing, visit the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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  • stacey

    Why don’t we simply support a decent person with a business. Why does it have to be a black business. The blacks had Bedford Stuyvesant for a very long time and ruined it. They did not police their own, sorry, give someone else a chance now. By someone else I mean any one, regardless of color. Blacks complain about lack of services in comparison to what whites get. Guess what, whites complain and go to meetings and in their meetings they don’t cry about only wanting whites in their neighborhood and supporting only white businesses. That would be illegal. Wake up blacks, it is the year 2010. Get on the train, or you will be left behind. In our economic times Americans have so much more to worry about than your persistent excuses for lack of performance. I am hispanic by the way and my people helped ruin Harlem once upon a time and also many parts of LA. Why can’t we admit the truth, people just are not having it anymore. No one cares about the hood, not even blacks, the black homeowners love new people coming into their neighborhoods. They are homeowners and understand that they will benefit just as much as the next person. My block association consists of black, Asian, hispanic and Caribbean people. I love each and everyone of them for what they do. We own property, not territory. There are plenty of places that resemble the old Bed- Stuy in Detroit. I am sure they will welcome any nostalgic people willing to invest there and start a whole new generation of crack ridden neighborhoods. There is a funny drawing of a WWII era GI holding a cup of coffee and giving some healthy advice. Maybe we all need to live by that once in a while, to include myself.

    • Stacey wrote: “Why don’t we simply support a decent person with a business. Why does it have to be a black business. The blacks had Bedford Stuyvesant for a very long time and ruined it. They did not police their own, sorry, give someone else a chance now. By someone else I mean any one, regardless of color. Blacks complain about lack of services in comparison to what whites get. Guess what, whites complain and go to meetings… …Wake up blacks, it is the year 2010. Get on the train, or you will be left behind. In our economic times Americans have so much more to worry about than your persistent excuses for lack of performance. I am hispanic by the way and my people helped ruin Harlem once upon a time and also many parts of LA. Why can’t we admit the truth…”
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Oh my…you’re gonna get it now! *sniggle*

      Erm, uh, anyway…

    • fraulein17

      @akai why would she “Get it”?? unfortunately a LOT of non black people think us blacks need to get it the f*** together. we need to see how we look to other people cause they see is as low and NOTHING.

      i have heard way too many non black people ask me ” why are black people so lazy?” or ” why do black people complain so much over everything”? and like i asked in another article ” why are black people allowed to be so racist/prejudice/ and seperatist (ie.all black colleges,clubs,neighborhoods ect). its EMBARASSING especially when you watch movies like tyler perry’s or anything else with all black people in it and they are depicted as such.

      there are people who go watch movies like “the lottery ticket” and “friday” so they can say ” whew, at least i’m not black. black people are __________ thank goodness hispanic/asian/ect people are seen this way”

      we shouldnt get mad that non black people point out stuff that we know damn well goes on in out community. we SHOULD be embarassed and take note that we look like fools to everybody else. we shouldnt get mad cause its our own fault for ruining our own reputation.

      thats all i have to say.

    • Oh Fraulein, hispanic/latino is not a ‘race’ — but I was just joking with Stacey and keeping things light.

      There are, of course, pounds of truth to the joke as, often, insecure individuals take a cheap shot and attempt to disregard statements they dislike/don’t want to ‘hear’ solely based on ethnicity, nationality etc. when impotent to disprove them otherwise.

      It’s happened many times and, just today, in an article re: Eminem, shade was thrown all over a participant’s POV based on race. Apparently, there is a monolith and all are supposed to view things the same way…since her views didn’t add to the overused clichés and boring echo chamber or follow the ‘acceptable’ lines, and it was erroneously assumed that she was “white.”

      p.s. I’m not touching anything else you (or Stacey) wrote with a 10 foot pole. *stick out tongue*

    • fraulein17

      @akai LOL i know its not a race silly! aha also i know you were just joking but i WISH somebody would try to say something to stacey because of her comment!grrrrrrrrrrlol