The Forgotten: Gentrification, Displacement & Longstanding Businesses

Helloooo Detroiters, PPPers and those of you who have a question to #AskRachel!

"I'm telling you...I'm 1/2 Streetcar on my mother's side!"

"I'm telling you...I'm 1/2 Streetcar on my mother's side!"


Summary for my Busy PPPers:

The gale force winds of gentrification affect not only longstanding residents, but also longstanding businesses.  Local businesses are also threatened by displacement spurred or accelerated by gentrification.  We should put some effort into helping existing local businesses survive the revitalization of their neighborhoods.  This can be good policy.  Longstanding businesses can help preserve neighborhood authenticity, be a unique jobs resource for longstanding residents, and prevent the homogenization of our urban neighborhoods.  When we discuss the challenges and possibilities that arise because of gentrification, let's not place longstanding businesses among the ranks of the forgotten.  We have to get the facts right to get the solutions right.    We have to include everybody to help anybody. 


In the first installment of this three-part blog series on gentrification and displacement, we clarified two half-truths about gentrification and displacement during the revitalization of urban neighborhoods. You and I discussed why all gentrifiers are not new white residents, and that gentrification and displacement doesn't start when the hipsters start moving in

Let's keep going, and clear up another misconception about gentrification and displacement:

The only people displaced by gentrification are the existing residents in the neighborhood.

#1:  The ranks of the Gentrified include longstanding neighborhood businesses, not just residents.  If you think about most of what you've heard about gentrification, it's about residents being displaced.  The story goes like this:  Urban neighborhood is revitalizing, higher-income white people are moving into all of the houses, and long-time black and brown residents are getting moved out.   There are many problems with this narrative - see my last blog post - but the most important problem is that it's incomplete. It leaves out of the discussion the longstanding businesses who can also be displaced by the complex forces of gentrification.  Local businesses can also be a member of the Gentrified.

Latino Business Owners fight business tenant evictions in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood in Boston.

Latino Business Owners fight business tenant evictions in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood in Boston.

If your business sucked, and longstanding neighborhood residents rarely patronized your business, you were Darwinized, not Gentrified.
— Calvin

I define the "Gentrified" as people who are actually displaced by the changes happening in the neighborhood.  So for example, if you sell your house to a developer so you can cash out and move to another neighborhood, you're not one of the Gentrified.  If you have a business in a neighborhood that longstanding residents of the neighborhood rarely patronized, and your contribution to the neighborhood was always mostly negative, you're not one of the Gentrified, your business just sucked.  You were Darwinized not Gentrified.

(Uh oh, did I just keep it too real?!).  

#2:  Helping some longstanding businesses withstand displacement pressures is a worthy goal.  Longstanding businesses often contribute hyper-localized economic development benefits to the neighborhood.   In other words, these local businesses are often more likely to hire local and neighborhood residents.  There's nothing wrong with a group of gals from another neighborhood (or another city!) banding together to open a coffee shop in a long-vacant storefront, but they are usually not as likely to hire someone from the neighborhood.  I'd posit they they more often hire their friends and people within their demographic cohort.   Secondly, longstanding businesses can also help preserve the  neighborhood authenticity and uniqueness that is usually everyone's draw to the neighborhood in the first place!  How many "hot" neighborhoods do you go to now and you could really be in any "hip" neighborhood in the country?  You walk in, look at the exposed brick, reclaimed wood and bearded staff and say to yourself "Am I in Portland?  DC?  Detroit?  Everywhere?  Anywhere?"  It's all starting to look kinda the same. 

You walk in, look at the exposed brick, reclaimed wood and bearded staff and say to yourself “Am I in Portland? DC? Detroit? Everywhere? Anywhere?”
— Calvin

Businesses also face the gale force winds of gentrification.  Let's not leave them among the ranks of the forgotten.  Let's continue to clarify, broaden and improve the narrative on gentrification and displacement caused by the revitalization of urban neighborhoods.  We have to get the facts right to get the solutions right.    We have to include everybody to help anybody. 

We have to get the facts right to get the solutions right. We have to include everybody to help anybody.
— Calvin

Next Post:    So what can we do to mitigate and sometimes prevent gentrification-based displacement?  Are the tools to help existing residents the same as the strategies to help existing businesses?  Let's talk about what we can and should do in the next blog post. 


Posted on June 16, 2015 .

2 Half-Truths about Gentrification & Displacement

Hellloooo Detroiters, PPPers, and those of you who have ever been "more probable than not...at least generally aware of inappropriate activities."

                                                Equipment malfunctions happen!

                                                Equipment malfunctions happen!

                                                                  Yeah Tom, we know.

                                                                  Yeah Tom, we know.


Summary for busy PPPer's:  The public narrative about gentrification during the revitalization of urban neighborhoods perpetuates a number of half-truths.  Here are two of them:

  1.  The gentrifiers are the new white people moving into the neighborhood; and
  2.  Gentrification and displacement occurs when the hipsters start moving in.

These are both half-truths.  Here's a quick synopsis of my five whole truths in response: 

  1. Not all gentrifiers are white;
  2. Gentrifiers not only include the new residents, but also the people who originally spurred the gentrification (I call these folks the Original Gentrifiers or OGs);
  3. Many of the people who gentrify a neighborhood never move into it;
  4. Hipsters moving into a 'hood are more likely to be an effect of gentrification than a cause of it;
  5. If you start fighting displacement when you see hipsters moving in, you're too late.

These clarifications are critical because we can't fight displacement if we don't start with the whole truth. 

We can’t bring more social equity to neighborhood revitalization if we are fighting the wrong battles against the wrong enemy at the wrong time.
— Calvin Gladney

Half Truth #1:  The gentrifiers are the new white people moving into the neighborhood.

The Whole Truth #1:  Many gentrifiers are white but they also hail from other racial groups.  Gentrifiers also include the people who spurred the original gentrification who may never actually move into the neighborhood.  No need to belabor the racial point - not all gentrifiers are white.  Despite what you mostly see and read, that's just factual.  Moreover, gentrifiers are not just new residents, but also include the public, private and non-profit actors who implemented the original redevelopment plans that spurred the gentrification.  This whole class of gentrifiers are often left out of the public conversation. 

Many of the gentrifiers of urban neighborhoods are the government officials, urban planners, brokers and developers who started the wheels of gentrification moving years before the neighborhood changed.

I call these folks the Original Gentrifiers (OG's for short), and most of them will never move into the neighborhood, and many of them are not white.   Whatever their racial makeup, I also hold the OGs (particularly the public sector OGs) at least partially responsible for not putting in place mitigation and prevention strategies to counteract any negative effects that may occur when gentrification does happen.

    When I say OGs, I mean the Original Gentrifiers, not OGs like Cube from Boyz N the Hood.

    When I say OGs, I mean the Original Gentrifiers, not OGs like Cube from Boyz N the Hood.


Half Truth #2:  Gentrification and displacement occurs when the hipsters start moving in.

                                                                Hi neighbor.

                                                                Hi neighbor.

Whole Truth #2:   Gentrification really starts when the neighborhood redevelopment plan is laid out, not when the hipsters are moving in.  Much of the public narrative about gentrification is misfocused on hipsters and their plaid shirt wearing, bicycle-riding brethren.  There's some truth that hipsters are a sign of gentrification when they arrive in droves, but I think they are more likely to be an effect of gentrification, not a cause.  The hipsters get labeled as gentrifiers, but they are not OGs.  Gentrification starts when the neighborhood redevelopment plan is laid out, and properties are bought and sold.  Gentrification starts to happen when certain people already in the neighborhood start re-naming areas that already had names. Gentrification begins way before the hipsters and higher-income people start moving in.

Final Truth:  If you start fighting displacement when you see hipsters moving in, you're too late.  Displacement is a real problem that can occur during the revitalization of a neighborhood.  The root causes of gentrification-based displacement can be best addressed when the gentrification process starts, not when the hipsters move in.  These clarifications of half-truths are important because we can't fight displacement if we don't start with the whole truth.  We can't bring more social equity to neighborhood revitalization if we are fighting the wrong battles against the wrong enemy at the wrong time. 

Up Next in Part 2:  Public discourse also tends to ignore an important segment of the ranks of the gentrified:  The local businesses who made it through urban disinvestment, riots and downturns, but could not survive the gale force winds of gentrification.  

Posted on May 15, 2015 and filed under Most Read.