The Way to Address Gentrification

A man walks down a residential Brooklyn street on the site of the proposed $4 billion mega-development Atlantic Yards project
A man walks down a residential Brooklyn street on the site of the proposed $4 billion mega-development Atlantic Yards project in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2007. Some residents fear the half-mile strip of 16 skyscrapers and a proposed New Jersey Nets arena will destroy the neighborhood, while others welcome the change and hope the development will bring long-awaited gentrification to the area. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Gentrification. Everyone knows the word yet how often are the the pros and cons of gentrification really discussed? Recently filmmaker Spike Lee discussed some of the negative consequences of gentrification in Brooklyn and took a lot of heat. Michel Martin, of the recently cancelled Tell Me More program on NPR, chastised former DC Mayor Marion Berry for even discussing the negative consequences of gentrification.

Why doesn't the media cover gentrification more? It has always been my belief that the media doesn't cover gentrification because a large percentage of media professionals, especially among the young generation, live on the front lines of gentrification. It is hard for them to be critical of themselves and their neighbors.

The narrative is that cities were dying. White-flight had created a problem of crime, a declining tax-base, failing schools, and vacant housing and white people came to the rescue. These white people are heroic saviors and the infallible generation of millennials coming to save the cities not only should be welcomed there interests should also be put above all others. Never in these discussions are the issues of affordable-housing and family-upheaval examined. Nor is the question of Americans having to commute hours to work because they cant afford to live in the city or folks being outright priced out of metro areas discussed.

Now there are a lot of things about gentrification that are problematic and can be debated; governmental-support, policing, racism, insensitivity, the lack of respect for existing residents, the refusal to support minority and "non-hipster" businesses, a cultural relationship with dogs that is not universal many feel is imposed upon them, bike-lanes in controversial places, and the list goes on.

One area where I think we can come to so agreement though is employment. Travelling throughout the country and visiting gentrified neighborhoods and seeing businesses that cater to hipsters one thing is apparent; the employees are heavily white and few have lived in the neighborhood for any great length of time. These are neighborhoods that have suffered for decades from lack of businesses and jobs and then jobs finally come to the neighborhood and instead of hiring locals they hire mostly white newcomers.

Despite couching itself in progressive and "green" rhetoric a quick examination will show you gentrification and hipsterism succeed due to two things; racial-solidarity and class-solidarity. Not very progressive and not very new.

In any city you will find most of the gentrification crowd are coming from affluent white suburbs. Even when they move into the city and into neighborhoods where people of color are a majority you will find it common they will go out of their way to support white-owned businesses that cater to their class. The flannels may be on, bodies may be covered with tattoos, the Bentley may have been traded for a bike, and pants may be tight; but at the end of the day most are bringing the same racial and class biases as their fathers in the country club had.

A real step that can be taken to soften the negative consequences of gentrification is to create a Contract With the Community. This contract would help end the discriminatory hiring practices of many new businesses and create jobs in the community for the people who actually need them. Instead of unemployed liberal-arts grads from places like the suburbs of Kansas City getting hired at new businesses in places like Bed-Stuy Brooklyn you will see those from the Marcy Projects getting hired.

50% From the Neighborhood

50% People of Color or Under the Poverty-Line

20% Ex-Offenders

$15 Minimum-Wage

The Contract With the Community. Local businesses could volunteer at first to sign the contract at which point they'd be given a "Hood Certified" endorsement. Local governments could be lobbied to make such a contract an ordinance in cities across the country struggling with discrimination. This contract could make a major difference in the lives of many Americans.

Umar blogs at