A few months ago, a friend of mine asked me about gentrification and how he could not participate in it as as a cis white middle class man (basically he’s definition of privilege). And to be honest, I didn’t have an answer for him then because gentrification is a little more complicated than can be described over dinner. That and I wasn’t entirely sure I could describe the process and the negative impacts at the time.
But before getting into how not to participate and work against this problem, it’s important to understand what gentrification is, the cities experiencing it (or have already), and the impact and effects of the process on the communities who have had to leave.
San Francisco and Oakland, are some of the most recently hit as far as expensive housing and gentrification (although not the only ones – other major cities like Chicago, New York, Seattle, Detroit, and many more go through gentrification). The city of San Fran just recently voted against an initiative that was to regulate AirBnB hosts and against another initiative that looked to put a short development moratorium in the Mission District. The video below is about what it’s like to get kicked out of your own neighborhood and highlights gentrification and income inequality in the Mission District and San Francisco as a whole.
About two and a half minutes or so, Kai talks about how there’s one part of the District that hasn’t really changed and how it still feels like his neighborhood. And that’s so important because while change does happen all the time, gentrification is far from that. Gentrification is more than just neighborhood improvements, as Stacey Sutton describes in the TEDxTalk below. She does a really excellent job of talking about what exactly gentrification is and gets to the heart of the issue at hand.
The difference between improving a neighborhood and gentrifying it? Improving and revitalizing a neighborhood would include keeping the area affordable to the low income families, individuals, and businesses that live in the area. Gentrification on the other hand seems to be driven mostly by capitalism and private sector greed. Plus, the process almost always causes displacement of entire communities that were in the neighborhood initially. Patricia Valoy wrote about several reasons why gentrification hurts communities of color (and how changes in a neighborhood should not happen at the expense of poor people and people of color), including some of the ones I’ve touched upon already.
Gentrification is a complicated topic that I doubt I’ll ever be able to fully cover in one post but before I sign off, I did want to bring this all back around to how to address gentrification, especially as people with privilege and positions of power. Ally Boguhn wrote about three different things that white people should consider when house hunting – including using our white privilege in many ways and being a fierce advocate for affordable housing. Katy Kreitler also wrote about several ways in which privileged people can reduce the negative impact of gentrification, including using our privilege to combat the systemic issues at hand.