Monday, March 24, 2008

Know Your Role

A few weeks ago, I went to the Understanding Your Role in Gentrification forum held at the University of Chicago during “Displacement Week.”

Naturally I was curious about one’s role in gentrification since it’s a much discussed and vilified topic these days. Since I’m a condo owner and by definition a gentrifier in Woodlawn, I had to stick my head in and see what all of this was about.

Perhaps I was slightly disappointed because of the un-preparedness of the panel.

Perhaps I was slightly disappointed because of the sparse turnout.

But one thing struck me as the discussion progressed, I’d bet you a million dollars that you’d never see a group of educated successful Black people beat themselves up over gentrifying a neighborhood.

Some say gentrifying, I say improving.

The panel was in the process of developing a brochure about responsible gentrifying. There seemed to be a lot of hand wringing by some people about gentrification in general.

People in attendance and the panel realized that good intentions and your personal budget often collide. As a result of finances and due to some people’s personal living preferences they have to (or choose to) live in “emerging neighborhoods.”

That’s a nice way of saying minority neighborhoods

I think it’s awfully conscious of the people at the forum to be concerned about being responsible gentrifies.

But as far as I’m concerned, it’s called being a good neighbor.

And as we all know, you can’t teach consideration, manners or good taste.

Well maybe you can try.

What I think the young people in that room may not have considered that change is a constant in Chicago neighborhoods.

Humbolt Park wasn’t always Hispanic. Woodlawn wasn’t always Black. Some parts of Old Town and River North used to be the “red light district.”

Obviously block busting, redlining, overt racism and down right ignorance played a huge role in the changing of the guard in the residential areas.

As those of us in the Chicagoland area know, it’s not the neighborhood but who lives in it that drives how it’s perceived and the services it receives.

Hey that rhymed.

In a sort of neighborhood circle of life, older neglected neighborhoods are bound to be rediscovered by those seeking beautiful, architecturally interesting buildings.

Not to mention accessibility to public transportation and green spaces.

Older neighborhoods in the city are experiencing a renaissance. Naturally, gentrication will follow.

And while many opinions will continued to be expressed about the re-emergence of urban neighborhoods, a few things continue to ring true.

People who want affordable accessible homes aren’t the problem. They shouldn’t be treated as such.

If you don’t want the flavor of your neighborhood to change, purchase it. Short of eminent domain or a federal injunction, not much can be done to take it away from you.

It never hurts to have a little diversity in your ’hood. While I don’t think the Germans are on there way back to Humbolt Park, it wouldn’t hurt to have a tauqeria next door to a beer hall.

And to my fellow forum attendees that happen to be white a small aside:

You don’t need a manual on how to be a good neighbor. In fact, I think it’s somewhat ridiculous to feel guilty or apologize for simply being who you are.

With racial divisions being very much in the news these days, it’s great to see dialogues getting started.

But unnecessary contrition isn’t needed.

Unless there’s 40 acres and a mule involved, I think your potential new neighborhoods will survive your arrival.


kbr7171 said...

I never understood why some groups felt neighborhoods were deeded to them.

The North Coast said...

Great post, Woodie.

Hyde said...

Mary Patillo has a great book on this subject - Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City.

Neighborhood is North Kenwood/Oakland, story is the same.