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“The new inhabitants said the drums are loud”: Gentrification and Living Ethically in the City

By Guest Author
3 Mar 2015

Then comes the motherfuckin’ Christopher Columbus Syndrome. You can’t discover this! We been here. You just can’t come and bogart. There were brothers playing motherfuckin’ African drums in Mount Morris Park for 40 years and now they can’t do it anymore because the new inhabitants said the drums are loud.  – Spike Lee, Rant on Gentrification

Spike Lee’s rant against gentrification in the Brooklyn area during a Q+A at the Pratt Institute highlights the negative sentiment that many communities are facing  in the rapid change of the urban world.  Gentrification can be easily understood as the the process of renovation of low-income communities through housing and business development often originating from white middle income persons. However, within the good intentions of “developing” or “cleaning-up a neighborhood” comes many social issues that may contain a lasting harmful impact.

To start off, why is the millennial generation so interested in living in urban areas? First, there has been a major shift in the value change among millennials (those born after 1982) and the parenting generation. Many gentrifiers have grown up under the privilege of gated communities and post-white flight suburbia. Having 20 minutes of commuting time all one’s life from home to school, school to the grocery stores,  grocery stores to restaurants, the millennial and mostly white generation has mostly lived a life inside the commute of the soccer mom’s minvan. For many of us, we are starting to reject that narrative. We want to live, work, eat, and be social all within immediate proximity. As  gentrification has become rapid over the last ten years and millennials showing their ability to start businesses, the desire  for cheap rent found in low-income communities for low-cost social entrepreneurship becomes a high demand.

But good intentions are not always great for all of those living in the community. In fact, communities are not really being developed alongside and with the emergencing populations but are often facing forced evictions, rising property taxes, and drastic rental increase and now relocating to the former home of these gentrifiers- the suburbs. And with gentrification comes the rebranding (code for whitewashing) of communities as neighborhoods are losing their cultural history to names branded, market friendly brands by real estate developers.

Gentrification is a complex issue. On one hand, local business development, and the renovation of buildings  is a positive asset for a city. Fishtown, Philadelphia was an area known where one could easily score heroin but now it is covered with art, bars, and local restaurants. However, Spike Lee rightfully points out a criticism towards the city politicians and developers,“So, why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why’s there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!”

As the world grows more urban and as millennials continue to migrate to the cities, the complexity surrounding where one should live is loaded with impact that might just contribute to more harm than good in the long run of city life.  While access to gluten free markets, dog parks, locally sourced sriracha flavored ice cream, and organic kale juice bars might be the positive community one is looking for, chances are, there was evictions, relocations, and pain as some members lost the community they once held dear.

 This Guest Author post was written by Matt Cummings, Coordinator of Community Service at DePauw University.

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