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 β€œAm 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 .