Gentrification refers to “the renovation of under-developed neighborhoods to make them suitable for more affluent residents.” As a hypervisible and highly lucrative enterprise, gentrification is largely understood as an inevitable consequence of socioeconomic inequity—a centering of the haves and a marginalization of the have-nots.
While the benefits of gentrification, which include commercial development, improved property value and lower crime rates are valuable to those who are not vulnerable to displacement, gentrification is mostly framed from the lens of its negative impacts.
Gentrification-led improvements can be detrimental to life-long residents who are either priced out of their previously affordable neighborhoods, or who are pushed out by new residents who coercively co-opt their way of life.
Spike Lee famously accused wealthy gentrifiers as having “Christopher Columbus syndrome”— claiming to have “discovered” refurbished neighborhoods as if they were not previously occupied and in the spirit of colonialism dismantling the cultural core of communities of color, sometimes even changing their name.
The racialization of gentrification reinscribes segregation at the expense of people of color and others who cannot afford to remain in neighborhoods once they are aesthetically and economically improved.
The climate-change escalation of natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires also have a direct impact on the frequency and propensity of gentrification in previously culture-rich neighborhoods like those in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina.
Natural disasters can spur gentrification when whole communities are destroyed and lost and its residents are forced to evacuate and abandon. Because residents in poverty-ridden communities do not have the financial means to rebuild, gentrification is all but inevitable when developers respond to the shambles of a storm with opportunism disguised as reinvigoration.
It is important, then, that we understand gentrification as both a cultural issue and an environmental one. While the cultural consequences of gentrification are well documented, the implications of environmental gentrification, which simultaneously supports and encourages these efforts, are not. Climate-friendly construction is a significant driver for economic development, but how do we reconcile the long-term benefits of gentrification with the short-term displacement and dissolution of existing communities?
If gentrification is intended to cure larger social ills, then we must ask why specific communities require gentrification in the first place. If the existence of gentrification suggests communities of color cannot improve unless and until white people move in, or if as it seems, lower income communities will not receive amenities and measures of safety unless and until middle class people relocate there—then there is a larger and more sinister problem at play.
Federal funds should be allocated in poorer communities to improve their conditions and infrastructure without the necessary intervention of privatized gentrification efforts.
I’m Robin Boylorn, until next time, keep it crunk.
Written by Robin Boylorn
Edited by Brittany Young