Having recently moved to DC, there was only a matter of time before I tackled the topic of gentrification. Since it’s such a complex issue, I’m sure this will be the first post of many.
I feel that in the year prior to my moving to DC I spent a fair amount of time thinking about this phenomenon and wondering where I would end up living and what the neighborhood around me would look like.
Because I wasn’t going to bring my car from the west coast I wanted to live somewhere that was either close to work, or close to transportation that would get me there. Being somewhat near a grocery store would also be nice. I also wanted to live somewhere that was relatively safe. As I was going to be a woman with no vehicle walking home at night, this was pretty important.
But most important was the price. Having just become a postdoc and graduating off of my graduate income (which, I admit was pretty decent compared to the average thanks to a nice fellowship the last three years), I had more income at my disposal. Granted, I’m a postdoc so the amount of money only goes so far. But still, as a single person with no dependents, I had a bit of leeway in what I could afford.
The issue then began of finding a place that was decently priced, but in a decent area. I found places that were really nice, price-wise, but weren’t in great areas. The ones that were in fantastic areas were, obviously, too expensive. As it was, I ended up sacrificing a bit on price to live in an area that was almost perfect on all accounts: decent neighborhood, very close to work, transportation, and grocery stores, etc.
But where is it? In an area that apparently, over a decade ago was not that great of a place, or at least wasn’t where you found ridiculously expensive condos and upscale markets.
This fact is something I’m not quite sure how to deal with. While it’s not as if I was one of the first people moving in, changing the socioeconomics of the neighborhood and making it more upscale, I am certainly benefitting from it. I am walking distance from multiple yoga studios, vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops, and upscale grocery stores, just to name a few things. The thing that really puts this into stark relief is that if i walk ~4 blocks to the east, it’s like night and day and I end up in an area that looks almost nothing like the one I left, economically speaking. It’s like walking into the neighborhoods of my childhood, with fried chicken restaurants, nail salons and check cashing places sprinkled all over. Crossing the line between these two worlds in such a short amount of space is jarring. Not because it seems like a different world, but because I know that ~4 blocks behind me used to look just like this not too long ago.
It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that I live somewhere that is slowly changing the face and economics of surrounding neighborhoods, often completely changing the economics and shade of the landscape.
I used to think of gentrification in strictly racial terms, very black and white (almost literally). White people moving in, people of color being pushed/priced out. But the more I learn about it, the more I witness it, the more I recognize the nuance and complexity. I am a case in point. I think it is reasonable to say that I am an agent of gentrification, so to speak. My income and single/no-dependent status make it so that I can afford to live in this neighborhood. But I’m not white. Granted, I’m a renter, but I’m still living there, another person within the (albeit lower end of the) income demographics that make up my neighborhood. I’m putting money into this neighborhood, shopping in some of the stores, buying the food, etc. While I’m probably adding color to the neighborhood, my financial status may very well be helping to push other people (of color) out and/or changing the landscape. I read a blog post not too long ago talking about this, calling it “brown on brown” gentrification, drawing attention to the reality of some people of color as gentrifiers, and the level of class that plays into the issue. (Also, interesting, the area I live is also considered to have undergone gentrification via gaytrification, but that’s another story for another time.)
All this is to say that the issue of gentrification still largely concerns race, but it’s also much more about class and economics than it is made to appear.
How does one reconcile this? My instinct has always been “gentrification – bad” when it comes pricing people out of their homes and replacing them with affluent spenders, instead of an effort to improve the quality of living of the people already there. But here I am, paying a bit more than what I should to live in this neighborhood that is so convenient for me. Again, it’s something I find hard to wrap my brain around. It’s also something I find hard to wrap my emotions around. I don’t know if I ever will.