Gentrification, By Any Other Name, Is Still Segregation

It was bound to happen. Rather than address pervasive hurdles to global problems, those whose stock dividends depend on maintaining status quo instead splurge on public relation firms to decorate shit cakes with unicorn frosting.

We already have ‘forestry stewardship’, ‘clean coal’, ‘sustainable seafood’, ‘green cars’, ‘humane slaughter’, and every liberal capitalist’s favorite: ‘smart growth’. Joining these wholly dishonest marketing clichés is a new mind-vomit term courtesy of real estate blog Curbed: “Intelligent Gentrification“.

No, seriously. You can’t make this up.

Curbed even doubles down on cynicism by asserting that gentrifying ‘intelligently‘ somehow won’t displace anyone at all. How is such a magical feat accomplished? The writers fail to articulate this point.

So malignant is the idea of repairing a neighborhood just to kick out the poor and move in the rich that ad writers are now coddling the un-coddleable – by spinning financial oppression into something smart!

Clearly if you can afford the new gentrified ‘hood, you must be intelligent, too. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here anymore. Enjoy your new $1,300 per month members-only club, Whitey.

I’m hardly alone in this outrage. Quartz recently inspired sub-blog posts for laying it out with brevity:

The most unsettling thing about gentrification is how it reflects the utter and complete lack of control the poor and the non-white have in where they’re permitted to live. It’s a cycle already repeating itself. The percentage of Detroiters living under the poverty line is substantially larger—39.3%, compared with 23.2% in Brooklyn’s Kings County. The repopulation of Michigan’s largest city might just be the most ambitious gentrification project in the history of American city living.

detroit_hmda Discriminatory home lending in Detroit: source.

As I’ve written before, gentrification is not some unforeseen byproduct of increasing density or improving the livability of our streets. Cycles of divestment and gentrification are intentional, deliberate schemes formulated to generate the most capital possible for banks, developers, and private investors.

The recipe is simple: build something new, move people in. Then let the neighborhood fall into ruin over the course of a generation or two. Next cite crime and dilapidation as reasons for radical redevelopment once property values tank. Now raze it all and build shiny condos for the next wave of residents after you’ve priced out the existing community. Success! 

This is how city halls and their real estate accomplices view neighborhoods – not as places to live, but as places to profit. It’s disheartening and a bit disturbing to hear the educated and academic attempt to spin this as a positive, but still they try.

Like most, I love that so much work is being done to preserve gorgeous old brick homes in Detroit. But saving historic buildings shouldn’t, and needn’t cause harm to existing communities.

Preservationists often claim saving structures of architectural significance requires looking the other way when evicting residents prior to rehabbing (and jacking up the rent, of course). But we all know the race to the top of the housing market isn’t confined to individual properties. Once hype hits the streets, every landlord wants in on the speculation game.

All of this – from the sad rebranding to the immoral excuses to the cheerleading bullshit from real estate firms masquerading as life-style blogs – it’s all designed to obscure a darker truth.

The wealthy, the elite, the white: they want to capitalize on what once was struggling, but is now up-and-coming. They peruse the allure of the creative class without contributing to it. They prospect the cheap land of the working class to flip for maximum profit return. They see the grit and soul of communities of color, and they strive to impose an economic supremacy upon it.

Let’s not mince words. Gentrification – by any other name – is still Segregation.

Remember that the next time you hear somebody interviewed talking about the “good side” of gentrification. That racist “separate but equal” crap won’t fly anymore.

Neither should this.

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Thumbnail photo by Gordon Parks in LIFE Magazine, 1956.