Updated: Sep 20, 2018
What do you think the Cheyenne Tribe thought when they saw Lewis & Clark walking through their lands? Imagine the thoughts of the Squanto Native Americans when they saw The Mayflower docking in Plymouth, before the Pilgrims killed them off due to disease of course. In more recent times, many of us can still remember watching Spike Lee's, Do the Right Thing when Buggin’ Out’s brand new white cement Jordan 4’s received a nice black scuff and ruined thanks to the Larry Bird jersey wearing Boston Celtics fan. How dare he disrespect the J’s.
Each example shows how whiteness has equaled a right to explore and colonize any area they saw fit. Colonialism is not just profitable in Guam, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Liberia or the Dominican Republican it is also profitable in urban communities across the country. Except we don’t call it colonialism, we call it gentrification.
This article is to provide you with key insights, so just like the Cheyenne, Squanto and Buggin Out you can see it coming as well.
The local food culture is a sure-fire way to see it coming. When you begin to see healthy options and places to buy food other than corner stores, newbies are on their way. This is a shame, because minority communities often lack easy access to fresh and affordable food choices. They call it food deserts.
Newbies can’t survive in the desert. They will need to find an oasis that includes brunch, cupcakes, vegan burgers and gluten free donuts. Healthy options signal, it is okay here. In Richmond, when you saw Aldi pop up on Myers Street you had to wonder why. But when the word came out about Whole Foods coming to the old Pleasant Hardware location, you knew for sure. THEY HAVE ARRIVED
You get your lease renewal and find out quickly you can’t afford to live here anymore. Rent increases without any new amenities or changes in the property let you know, you are no longer wanted. Especially when you see it increase 20-30%.
When communities open themselves up to younger and more educated visitor’s rents increase and the native population usually made up of black and brown folk decrease. With low homeownership rates, absentee landlords and hungry investors rent becomes a commodity many can no longer afford, so they leave. Once they leave, they will not be able to afford to return. Newbies, just like Lewis and Clark can always return home.
Black businesses for lease
Think back for a second of the good ole days. The days when you could get a beef patty and champagne cola from the local Jamaican bakery. (That may be the New Englander in me, but you get the idea) Remember back when the corner store used to have the best candy and quarter chips?
Those places are gone and may have changed hands over the years, but they always served the people who lived there. Today the mom and pop shop owned by the family you went to school with is replaced by Five Guys or a mysterious art gallery. New businesses are out of touch with the current community. Some newbies like the lifestyler love it just they way it is. For some they can brag about coming out to urban jungle for some awesome coffee every first Friday of the month. They can celebrate with their new urban dwellers about their awesome find in the newest boutique on the block.
For them it is an experience, for the natives it means a loss of livelihood. It leads to not only a break in legacy but the mitigation of economic power. This is vital for the black community because so much of black owned business profits go right back into the community.
Schools of Choice
Ever wonder why charter schools just always seem to find themselves in urban areas? Or how it seems like the newbies pick one school and everyone moves to that district? I have answers or at least my opinion.
Moving into the urban jungle is the task of a younger gentrifier. They select a location that has an elementary school that is connected more to the city than the key pockets of poverty. This becomes their school choice and if that choice isn’t good enough it is time to create a charter school. The first year of that charter school may include the community, but watch how the demographics change 2-3 years down the road. Newbies are much better at navigating the system because they are specifically choosing this area and are seeking out opportunity. Soon that charter school may just have enough diversity to make them eligible for grants. *Full disclosure: During the writing of this article, my son attends a charter school.
The results of this go deeper than school of choice. It directly impacts school segregation and educational opportunities for the current community members.
The newest innovation in gentrification is the re-branding of an area. You will start hearing the word historic thrown around. Brick exterior walls will begin to be covered in wonderful murals. These murals may pay homage to the original community or make no sense at all.
Some areas may suddenly have an abbreviation, kind of like how you have Richmond and RVA. Acronyms are cool right? Other areas will suddenly have multiple names with multiple meanings depending on who you ask. Newbies are attracted to the new name. The new name comes with business associations, yearly festivals in the street and brave new business owners who are pioneering into this great new unknown world.
There is no one thing that will put a spotlight on when an area is being gentrified. Many don’t see gentrification as a bad thing. One thing we can be sure of and that is our urban neighborhoods are changing. They are changing at a rapid pace and are excluding current residents. All signs say, without key actions this will not change anytime soon.