I remember my first experience uttering a foul 4-letter word.
I went to a small private school staffed with teachers that rivaled the nuns of many old Catholic schools when it came to pure rigidity. These teachers (who truly did care for me) taught me the meaning of a “healthy fear.” One incident has always stood out to me – the day I said the “S” word.
My older brother tended to hang out with kids who were most comfortable standing on the other side of the moral fence and throwing rocks at all the goodie-goodies who were too chicken to follow. It was by listening to these kids that I learned the proper usage and context for the “S” word. I carried that knowledge in to my first grade classroom one sunny day towards the end of the schoolyear. I had spent the majority of the afternoon sending my imagination into orbit while my eyes glazed over and my math paper sat unfinished.
My first grade teacher sternly called my attention back to the room. “Son, you’re going to stay after school until you finish that entire math paper!”
What?! No way! It was like 75° outside! My frustrated panic came bubbling out faster than my 7 year old brain could process. “Bull $#!+ I will!” I exclaimed like a little sailor. That day, my mother told my principal to wash out my mouth with soap. I could hear her over the phone.
I never grew up to be the swearing type, because that day I learned that some words are just going to offend people. Some words are just not acceptable in polite company. And that seems to carry over to neighborhoods as well; only, here, the bad word has more than 4 letters.
I’m gonna tell you what it is, ok? Don’t freak out. The bad word for a neighborhood is . . . gentrification! *GASP!*
Ok, so it doesn’t create a visceral reaction like some of the snappier 4 letter words, but it still offends many people. Here’s why: gentrification is a term that, according to Webster, means “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.” Basically, old neighborhoods revive as new residents and developers move in, and existing residents can’t afford to keep living there.
Your feelings about gentrification will largely depend on which side of the transition you experience. The prevailing feeling is that as these outside people move in, previous residents feel pushed out, discriminated against, or isolated due to their race or economic status. The other side of the argument states that gentrification brings lower crime rates and more economic stability. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
Documented cases of broad and rapid gentrification in cities like New York and San Fransisco highlight the devastating impact to honest hardworking families who have relied on their affordable rent in order to make ends meet. Many cultural scars remain in parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx where rent prices exploded in the 80’s and 90’s as developers intentionally pushed people out of their homes in order to buy low and sell high. San Fransisco is experiencing much of the same problem right now in areas of town that have been historically multi-cultural, blue-collar communities. The increased rent prices virtually guarantee that the existing families have to leave or go broke. This leaves buildings vacant and ripe for developers to renovate.
“So isn’t that what is happening in Minne Lusa?” my wife asks me. That’s a legit question. So what exactly is happening in Minne Lusa? Are we experiencing gentrification, good or bad? I don’t think so. Let me clarify.
Gentrification is the effect of outside development and culture pouring money in to essentially change the culture of an area. It is outside pressure.
Revitalization, on the other hand, is the effect of the existing culture and residents investing time and effort into improving what already exists. It is not a changing of the culture. It is an activation of the culture. This is what is happening in Minne Lusa. Are we attracting new homeowners? Yes. But the new homeowners are moving in because they want to be part of the community that already exists here. We are still attracting neighbors from across the socioeconomic spectrum. We are appealing to all races and economic groups, all religions and political persuasions.
So for all of you who fear hearing that dirty word – “gentrification” – rest assured that the word you should be hearing and saying is “revitalization.” Home values are rising. Investment is beginning. Our reputation is improving. But these are all happening because of us, because we are making it happen. No developer is imposing their view of what Minne Lusa “should be,” because we already know what it should be. Anyone coming here is doing so because we already have our identity.
Minne Lusa will continue to improve over the upcoming years. But I can promise you that you will recognize it. It will not become something else. It will be exactly what is has always been – a welcome home for everyone who wants to be part of a diverse community.
Now for the goodies:
Check out our fundraising campaign to get signage that will help welcome people to Minne Lusa.
Please, consider giving at least $5 per month for the next 5 months.
Also, here’s a quick chart showing the impact our Historic District designation has had on home prices. The real takeaway is watching that bottom tier of prices jump up. This effectively eliminates many of the slumlords who snatch up bottom tier homes and do the minimum amount of work before trying to get families to live in them.
And finally, SNL takes a stab at the gentrification of Brooklyn. (Funny, but beware some salty language.)