6.02.2016

The G Word, the R Word

A big city industrial waterfront is repurposed into billions in mixed-use development and it's smeared as "gentrification."  A strategically important corner in my neighborhood is now home to a thriving restaurant and it's smeared as "gentrification."  Around these parts, "the G word" is just about as dirty a name as you can call something.

It is obviously a topic of great interest and importance.  And, there is lots of room to argue what it is, why it happens, whether it is good or bad, and whether and how local governments and community-serving organizations can influence whether and how it happens.

But let's be clear.  You cannot talk about gentrification without talking about race.  And you cannot talk about race without talking about the unfortunate, unconscionable, and enraging ways that people of color and particularly African-Americans have been treated in this country.

If there's anything I have learned from living in Philadelphia for 25 years, it is that history matters.  No, many of us were not alive during Jim Crow and urban renewal and deseg.  But many in our gentrifying neighborhoods were, and even if they weren't their parents and grandparents were.  And so, rightly or wrongly, there is a sense that this movie's been played before, and it doesn't end well.

Again, there's lots of room for productive conversation about what is going on, what's really good for folks, and what can actually be done to facilitate and protect and balance.  But if you are going to enter into any conversation on this topic without acknowledging the role of race or respecting the historical black experience in America, then that is not a real conversation.
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