Tag Archives: gentrification

America Asleep

“The summer of 1919, called “The Red Summer” by James Weldon Johnson, ushered in the greatest period of interracial violence the nation had ever witnessed. During that summer there were twenty-six race riots in such cities as Chicago, Illinois; Washington, D.C.; Elaine, Arkansas; Charleston, South Carolina; Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee; Longview, Texas; and Omaha, Nebraska. More than one hundred Blacks were killed in these riots, and thousands were wounded and left homeless. The seven most serious race riots were those which occurred in Wilmington, N. C. (1898), Atlanta, Ga. (1906), Springfield, Ill. (1908), East St. Louis) Ill. (1917), Chicago, Ill. (1919), Tulsa, Okla. (1921) and Detroit, Mich. (1943).”

— Robert Gibson

“A war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct.”

— California Governor Peter H. Burnett, 1851

“At the time, Executive Order 9066 was justified as a “military necessity” to protect against domestic espionage and sabotage. However, it was later documented that “our government had in its possession proof that not one Japanese American, citizen or not, had engaged in espionage, not one had committed any act of sabotage.( ) These Japanese Americans, half of whom were children, were incarcerated for up to 4 years, without due process of law or any factual basis, in bleak, remote camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.”

— Michi Weglyn.

The recent attack in Charlottsville hardly stands out as in any way unique in American history. But there are several very telling aspects to this display of organized white supremacist values. First, how is it the police allowed it to happen? Well, ok, we know the answer. That was rhetorical. The next question would be perhaps the media coverage of this. Third would be the President and his response.

In a sense, the media coverage actually encloses the other issues. For the narrative being manufactured by the NY Times and Washington Post and all the rest, CNN and MSNBC is pretty much the same, with only variations that are designed to target specific demographics. The story of U.S. racism and colonial plunder, of a settler mentality and the reality of Manifest Destiny and genocide is simply erased. In its place is the fairy tale of white American goodness that I and millions of others were taught in school. Charlottsville is thus not a result of Trump, of his personality, of his friends such as Steve Bannon. It is part of a deep current in the collective psyche of the U.S.

There has never been a time when America was good. There was goodness in America, certainly in culture, in art and even in certain movements for social justice. There was the Wobblies and early socialists and union organizers. But the overriding reality has been one of acute racism, both institutional and individual, and of conquest and since WW2 of a rabid all consuming anti communism and quest for global hegemony. The U.S. was founded on the twin pillars of slave labor and the genocide of six hundred indigenous tribes. It is a settler colonial project that has never wavered in support for the Capitalist system. It was founded by rich white men, and that also has never changed.

“Blacks can’t run it. Nowhere, and they won’t be able to for a hundred years, and maybe not for a thousand. … Do you know, maybe one black country that’s well run?”

— Richard Nixon (Whitehouse tapes)

“I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of 10 are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the 10th.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

I mean one could just go on and on. Woodrow Wilson worked to keep blacks out of Princeton when he was that Universities president. Calvin Coolidge, Andrew Johnson, James Polk — who deserves a special place as the most pro slavery president, perhaps, in U.S. history. In fact, its pretty hard to find a president who wasn’t overtly racist.

“While it may be tempting to dismiss 500 knuckle-dragging racists marching through Charlottesville waving Confederate flags as unrepresentative of a nation that takes pride in values of tolerance and racial equality, it would be wrong. Those who took part in those ugly scenes are the reality rather than the myth of America. They know that the American exceptionalism which Obama, while president, declared he believed in with every fiber of his being, is in truth white exceptionalism – ‘white’ in this context being not only a racial construct but also an ideological construct.”

— John Wight

But what has struck me is the outcry from the educated white class. Those gatekeepers to media and what passes for culture these days. The outrage is extreme and this has served to amp up the anti Trump sentiments even further than they already were. But none of these people uttered a peep about Obama and his CIA support for radical head chopping takfiri killers in Syria, and not a word when Hillary Clinton and Victoria Nuland (and John McCain) orchestrated the coup in Ukraine that installed a full on Nazi Party, complete with swastikas. But then U.S. foreign policy has a long history of support for fascism. In Africa, the U.S. supported war lords and mass killers…as Keith Harmon Snow wrote…

“The violence wreaked on Congo-Zaire by Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame was exported by perpetrators who first waged genocidal campaigns and coups-d’état that violated the most fundamental international covenants on state sovereignty first in Uganda, then Rwanda, then Zaire (Congo). On 6 April 1994, they assassinated heads of state from Rwanda and Burundi, again the most fundamental and egregious violations of international law. The U.S., U.K., Canada and Israel could not have been happier.

These first campaigns of Tutsi-Hima guerrilla warfare set the stage for unprecedented violence as the terror regimes of Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame tortured, slaughtered, raped, disappeared, assassinated, and terrorized millions of innocent non-combatant civilians from Uganda to Rwanda to Burundi to Congo (and in South Sudan). They had the backing of western intelligence and covert operations at the start.”

Or take Haiti. The U.S. ushered out President Aristide at gunpoint and replaced him with former Ton Ton Macoute fascists. The U.S. removed Zelaya in Honduras (on order from Hillary Clinton) and replaced him with a far right wing fascist. The U.S. supports fascist Leopoldo Lopez and his friends in Venezuela at this very moment. But rarely if ever do I hear a word from those people *outraged* at the tiki torch Blood and Soil pro confederate neo Klansmen in Virginia this week. The U.S. openly supported the fascist loving Croatian secessionists under Franjo Tudjman, an ardent admirer of the fascist state of Croatia in the 1930s under Ante Pavelic, as they dismantled socialist Yugoslavia. The racist murderers in Charlottsville are ideologically the same as countless parties and leaders the U.S. has supported for sixty years. No, for two hundred years and supports today.

I read a meme on social media yesterday that described Trump as having disgraced the office of the President. This is from a liberal and a Democrat. Honestly I’m not sure what one would have to do to disgrace that office. Harry Truman ordered the destruction of two Japanese cities with Atomic bombs, the murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians, women, children, the elderly…everyone. Disgrace the office? The School of the Americas, now rebranded, taught torture and subjugation to several generations of right wing dictators, and helped train death squads throughout Latin America.

I suspect that if Barry Goldwater returned from the dead and ran as a Democrat today he would be hugely successful. There is a certain swooning adoration for rock ribbed conservatives in liberal America. It is the result of an endless inculcating of the idea of money equating with merit. Most Americans have an unconscious knee jerk respect for the wealthy. Listen to how the owners of major sports franchises are talked about…it is always MISTER Bennet, MISTER Dolan, MISTER Snyder, MISTER Kendrick. It is a kind of weird hologram of the plantation system brought to you on network TV.

“While demanding an Open Door in China, it had insisted (with the Monroe Doctrine and many military interventions) on a Closed Door in Latin America-that is, closed to everyone but the United States. It had engineered a revolution against Colombia and created the “independent” state of Panama in order to build and control the Canal. It sent five thousand marines to Nicaragua in 1926 to counter a revolution, and kept a force there for seven years. It intervened in the Dominican Republic for the fourth time in 1916 and kept troops there for eight years. It intervened for the second time in Haiti in 1915 and kept troops there for nineteen years. Between 1900 and 1933, the United States intervened in Cuba four times, in Nicaragua twice, in Panama six times, in Guatemala once, in Honduras seven times. By 1924 the finances of half of the twenty Latin American states were being directed to some extent by the United States. By 1935, over half of U.S. steel and cotton exports were being sold in Latin America.”

— Howard Zinn

The white liberal today operates from an ideological position of intellectual containment. One might think Hiroshima would be condemned without qualification. This is not the case. The intellectual containment is to partition aspects of history and simply ignore the disturbing parts — things like the reality of slavery for example. Hollywood goes a long ways in sanitizing the story of the slave trade, and more, of the enduring scars, emotional and psychic, that such barbarism produced. White supremacism is, as John Wight rightly notes, is an ideological construct.

So back to Charlottsville. The goofy Hitler haircuts and ridiculous tiki torches (Wal Mart sells them by the by) make for good TV and provide an easy target for hand wringing liberals, but the reality is, of course, that most people have no desire to upset the status-quo. How many white American football fans applaud Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the anthem? According to a Reuters poll 72% of Americans saw Kaepernick as unpatriotic. The overt racism and fascist symbols in Virgina are easy to denounce. They seem almost made for that. And the attendant cries of how empowered the Trump base is seem almost silly (for one thing Trump’s real base is upwardly mobile whites, suburban usually, and nominally educated). The cartoon crackers in Virginia are not a significant force. But they do have symbolic weight. And yes, a woman died. Killed by a former Marine. Quelle surprise says I. The police watched. The U.S. domestic police system was born of militia hunting runaway slaves. It has not traveled a very great ideological distance since.

“As an internal colony in what some refer to as a prison house of nations that characterizes the U.S. nation state, black communities are separated into enclaves of economic exploitation and social degradation by visible and often invisible social and economic processes. The police have played the role not of protectors of the unrealized human rights of black people but as occupation forces.”

— Ajamu Baraka

The U.S. society is one in distress. There is a desperation in the affluent classes that suggests a growing recognition that the system they believe in, that has protected their privilege, is starting to fray at the edges. And maybe worse than fray. A recent study on addiction to smart phones among teenagers links depression and feelings of isolation with smart phone usage. It also has resulted in a generation that goes out less, has less sex, and desires independence less. Teens live at home longer, and wait longer to get their driver’s license. One in four Americans take anti depressants.

Jonathan Crary’s excellent book 24/7 dissects the global present in which most Westerners today live. And disruptions of sleep play a prominent role in the infantilization of U.S. culture. Everyone today sleeps less. Six and half hours a night compared to eight hours only a generation ago. In a society that metaphorically sleepwalks when awake, the material reality is that people sleep less. They are more anxious, and more afraid.

“The anti war movement (of the 60s) had spawned an identification with pacifism and public empathy for the victims of war; but in the 1980s the conditions nurturing these currents had to be eliminated and replaced in all areas with a culture of aggressivity and violence. That millions of supposedly liberal or progressive Americans will not dutifully avow that they ‘support our troops’ while remaining silent about the thousands murdered in imperial wars attests to the success of these counter measures.”

— Jonathan Crary

This marked the conscious ridicule of the sixties counterculture in mass media. It also marked the start of an aggressive re-writing of history, even recent history. Today it is a criminal offense in many places to feed the poor. It is criminal in many places to grow a vegetable garden in your front yard. It is illegal to criticize the Israel, too. Poverty is shameful, and worse. Against this has come an onslaught of demonizing all communist leaders from Castro to Mao. Chavez is routinely called a dictator, a caudillo, a strongman. Never mind this is only more racism, it is also untrue, factually untrue. No matter. It is a society of mass propaganda on all levels. So Charlottsville will distract the educated white populace for a week or so, and Trump will be made fun of and denounced. One wonders who watched his TV show, though. I mean it can’t have been just those guys in Hitler haircuts, right? Now Trump is a vile and dangerous man. Clearly close to illiterate, weak, resentful and insecure. But Trump is only a signifier for a wider problem. And that problem is that the United States has never altered its basic course. It began as a settler colony, one with genocidal tendencies and a thirst for violence. And so it is today. Eight hundred military bases across the planet. And allies like Saudi Arabia, where women are beheaded for being witches. Where confessions are the result of torture. Torture that isn’t even denied. The UN appointed Saudi Arabia as head of their human rights council. You see the problem…its much bigger than Charlottsville. If a society has stopped reading, and cannot sleep, and is the most obese in history, and where fertility rates are in steep decline; well, one suspects this is the dawn of the Empire’s collapse.

Ajamu Baraka summerized it best I think.

“Looking at white supremacy from this wider-angle lens, it is clear that support for the Israeli state, war on North Korea, mass black and brown incarceration, a grotesque military budget, urban gentrification, the subversion of Venezuela, the state war on black and brown people of all genders, and the war on reproductive rights are among the many manifestations of an entrenched right-wing ideology that cannot be conveniently and opportunistically reduced to Trump and the Republicans.”

George Jackson wrote…“The Capitalist class reached its maturity with the close of the 1860-64 civil war. Since that time there have been no serious threats to their power; their excesses have taken on a certain legitimacy through long usage. Prestige bars any serious attack on power. Do people attack a thing they consider with awe, with a sense of its legitimacy?” The U.S. military lays waste to parts of every continent on earth, or threatens to. There are U.S. troops killing people in Yemen, in Syria, in Afghanistan. The U.S. threatens small nations without real power. And the leadership today, and not just Trump, is infantile and narcissistic and ill-educated. It is as if the very worst and most stupid people in the country are now running it. But this has been trending this direction for thirty years now. It is not new. It has only gotten much worse, I think. There were mass pro Nazi rallies in Madison Square Garden in the 1930s. Americans adore royalty, too. The same Euro royals who have supported and protected fascists for hundreds of years. There is an unmediated worship of power and authority. Nearly anyone in uniform is fawned over. The American bourgeoisie always side with authority. With the status quo. With institutional power. Charlottsville is indeed a symptom, but it is not in any way an aberration.

By John Steppling/CounterPunch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Who Is Responsible for Gentrification In HBCU Neighborhoods?

Gentrification. A term coined during the 1960s, it’s a concept that’s become hotly contested in recent years, described by Webster’s dictionary as “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”

The phenomenon has become a recurring theme across the country as urban areas once deemed unsuitable for affluent home buyers have become ground zero for new development.

Many students attend Texas Southern University, a ninety-year old institution in Houston’s historic Third Ward area, in search of an authentic Black college experience. But in recent years there’s been a change in the area surrounding the school, which has witnessed a decrease in its Black population. The percentage of African-American residents in the Greater Third Ward area dropped from 79 percent to 65 percent from 2000 to 2012 alone as the pace of change accelerated.

One of Houston’s six original wards, Third Ward was once described described by distinguished Clark Atlanta sociologist and former Texas Southern University dean Robert D. Bullard as “the city’s most diverse black neighborhood and a microcosm of the larger black Houston community.”

For years Third Ward served as a bustling hub of Black ownership in Houston, the Black-owned Unity National Bank and streets like Dowling, which once boasted over 150 stores during the 1950s. Roots run deep, with residents fiercely devoted to places like Emancipation Park, a community fixture founded by former slaves: Jack Yates, Richard Book, Richard Allen and Elias Dibble.

Due to limited resources, initially the park was only open to the public once a year for Juneteenth, a celebration of the effective end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation executive order declared their freedom. Since then it’s become an integral part of Third Ward’s history, serving as the only public swimming pool available to Black residents until integration during the 1950s.

The decline came gradually, after housing integration and upward mobility afforded wealthier Blacks the opportunity to move to newer subdivisions, leaving a number of dilapidated homes and shuttered businesses in their wake. Also at play was the construction of Highway 288, forcing a number of residents to give up their homes as construction expanded. As job opportunities began to dwindle, others began migrating from the area, creating a growing void in the neighborhood.

During an interview with the Houston Defender earlier this year, Gerald Womack, President and CEO of Womack Development & Investment Realtors explained, “Having ownership is important, and we have a lot of Black ownership in Third Ward. Unfortunately, many of these owners are grandchildren of the original owners, and live in other neighborhoods or out of state. Many see their properties as a burden or a drain on their finances rather than a plus. Many are selling these properties as the value goes up.”

The Defender also noted, “The vast majority of Third Ward’s Black businesses lease space, leaving them at the mercy of building owners who can increase the rent and price them out at a moment’s notice. Those that remain may find themselves dealing with a drastically different customer base.”

Meanwhile, vacancies have helped change the landscape of Third Ward, with homeowners increasingly pressed to sell their land to developers eager to insert luxury condos and townhouses into the area. Some 75 percent of residents are renters, but thanks to rates that rose nearly 5 percent from 2014 to 2015, many have found new properties out of their financial range.

For Texas Southern it’s meant a reduction of the very demographic that surrounds its campus. Once the only higher education option for African-American Houstonians, because of segregation the university has often been left to it’s own devices by Texas lawmakers, in favor of the larger — and more heavily endowed — University of Houston. Separated by only a few blocks, at times the two have competed for both land and resources, with TSU often on the losing end.

In a statement to the Houston Chronicle, John Nixon, a University of Houston law professor wrote, “What is happening in the Third Ward is a product of increased demand for inner city housing, developers who are willing to assemble land and build speculative houses to be offered to higher-income people willing to be pioneers in an area they previously shunned.”

For developers — all is fair in love and real estate — location factors heavily into the rush of new residents looking to get in on the ground floor of Third Ward’s revitalization efforts. Alyssa Gardner, a property sales representative, described the tactic to the Houston Chronicle as “We tell buyers that if you see something you like, snatch it up while you can. There are advantages to being on the edge of downtown.”

With the University of Houston actively buying up its own land in the area, officials like Texas Representative Garnet Coleman have started their own initiatives, teaming with local developers in an effort to buy land for affordable housing.

Residents are wary, with many able to recall the decline of the neighboring Fourth Ward. An early example of gentrification, for years residents fought to preserve the area once known as Freedman’s Town, founded by newly freed slaves. Settling along the flood-prone Buffalo Bayou, early residents worked hard to build their own community, paving their own bricks along hand-erected shanties.

Eager to protect the integrity of the community, for years residents fought to protect it, including a famous protest to retain Allen Parkway Village. Initially a whites-only property, thanks to integration it was later converted into a 963-unit public housing community.

Following a decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the city of Houston demolished 677 units, under the provision that the site be used to provide low-income housing. The property was later added to the National Register of Historic Places, saving it from demolition, but other areas didn’t fare as well. In 1984, over 530 historic buildings had been registered: twenty years later, less than 30 remained.

After a series of losses at the hands of developers, Fourth Ward, which once boasted historic landmarks like West End Park — Houston’s first baseball venue for Negro leagues games — would see a sudden increase in mid-rise complexes and luxury properties in the late 1990s.

It’s a cautionary tale that former Houston Mayor Annise Parker described as “That was the downfall of Freedmen’s Town. That’s when most of the historic elements were moved or torn down so developers could put up townhouses.”

Even the 100-year-old bricks laid in Freedman’s Town came under fire, with some destroyed entirely, mistakenly dug up by city workers during drainage repairs last year. Yet another blow to a community still reeling from it’s erasure. 

While some homeowners were able to take advantage of rising property values and escape the concurrent rising tax bills, others were not, including those living in areas hit hard by the crack epidemic. Left a shell of its former self, eventually Fourth Ward was assimilated into the newly minted Midtown.

Fearing the erasure of their own community, members of Third Ward have come together in an effort to educate and assist residents, including organizations like the Sankofa Research Institute and Project Row Houses, who have worked to preserve the community and increase ownership throughout the Greater Third Ward area.

Depending upon whom you ask, Third Ward’s transformation has been long in the making, with some eager to revamp the shotgun-style houses that dot the area. As Third Ward has changed, neighborhoods previously shunned by white students and young couples have become a haven for those that wouldn’t even go near the area five years ago.

TSU graduate Linda Williams expressed her views on the area she once called home by saying, “With urban planning and development, much of the historical context of Houston’s Third Ward area has been taken over the past five years. It’s become a culture shock for many residents in the area and has caused financial frustration to those who are struggling to keep businesses open and afloat.”

While some businesses, including the longstanding Wolf’s Department Store, have managed to keep it together, others haven’t been as lucky, with spots like Dowling Theater long gone.

According to Roderick “Bass” Tillman, Program Director of Third Ward after-school program Workshop Houston, a number of school closures have also accelerated the issue. Following the closure of Ryan Middle School, students were forced to relocate to Cullen Middle, a nearby school in Houston’s southeast area.

“I’ve been here since 2011,” Tillman explained. “Since then, the middle school that most of our students come from has been closed. In Third Ward itself, you see less kids around, less population because most of it is under construction. I think kids are searching for answers. At first it was a no-brainer that they’d go to schools in their neighborhoods. Now they face tough decisions on where they can go, because those schools just don’t exist anymore,” he said.

But after years of declining properties and vacant lots, others are eager for fresh changes and revitalization to the area, including a recent $33 million redesign of the 11.7-acre Emancipation Park.

Citing the recent progress made in the area, former Third Ward resident Elliot Guidry shared his own thoughts about the situation, “Don’t we want better for ourselves?” Guidry said. “Is it a bad thing to want to see the neighborhood you were born and raised in get uplifted? For that matter, TSU has gotten a major facelift. I love seeing the evolution of my neighborhood.”

But for others, it’s not so simple, including Third Ward resident Hope Carter. Carter said, “I’m a fan of the revitalization of my neighborhood, but not to appease people who are coming in.

“They’re taking over in the name of progress, but at the same time making everything else too expensive for the people who already live there,” Carter added. “Older people are having their property values lowered because they can no longer see the skyline. I’m not mad at revitalization as long as the improvements are for people who live there. A lot of times it feels as if all of these improvements were intended for someone else.”

Houston is not alone. Exploring the effects of gentrification on neighborhoods surrounding black universities, NPR recently highlighted the erosion of the Black working class near Washington, D.C.’s famed Howard University.

Similar to Texas Southern — Howard’s improvements to impoverished areas in the neighborhood also a drew an influx of new faces  — causing rents and property values to rise as new construction brought wealthier residents in. For new students it’s meant a very different experience, as predominately black neighborhoods around a number of HBCUs continue to decrease.

It’s a reality that Darren Jones, president of the civic association in D.C.’s Pleasant Plains neighborhood, fears will become the new norm. The cost of living in an area now deemed a hot spot.

Addressing the difficulties facing property owners, he explained how his son has been affected. “His assessment is going to go from $400,000 to, well, maybe not $700,000, but something much higher,” Jones told NPR. “But the city is going to say your house is worth what the house is worth next door, which is not true because we can’t sell it for $700,000.”

Jones admitted that he is fearful for the future of his community, saying, “I’m afraid for my son because he grew up in this neighborhood and he would like to stay.”

Some cities are taking their own steps to address the effects of gentrification, including Houston, which rolled out a new program in April designed to revitalize a number of Houston areas, including Third Ward.

Unveiled by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Jones proclaimed, “This is going to be a signature of my administration because it is so important to the families who live in these neighborhoods.

“We must not be a city of haves and have-nots. Every Houstonian has a right to make the choice I have made and live in the neighborhood where he or she grew up. With a more focused approach that involves the communities as well as partners in the public, private and nonprofit sectors, we can transform these neighborhoods. We are going to do this while striving to preserve affordability for existing residents, and we will not leave until we know what we have done will have a high likelihood of success.”

While the resilience of Third Ward is undiminished, the ability to preserve itself is not. Ultimately, the community will need more than legislation to address the issue, including a multi-pronged approach that tackles comprehensive revitalization without compromising affordable housing or the rich history of it’s residents.

During an interview with Rice University’s Kinder Institute, Project Row House Executive Director Eureka Gilkey shared the work that lies ahead: “We can’t halt gentrification; it’s already happening — but we have an opportunity to change the way this process works.

By Cecilia Smith/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

#HarlemIsHarlem: Community Is Up In Arms As Gentrifiers Move to Rebrand the Black Capital As ‘SoHa’

Are Black people losing Harlem to gentrification? And what is SoHa? Gentrifiers want to rename Harlem between 110th and 125th Streets SoHa for Southern Harlem. We have been here before. Welcome to the world of gentrification. This latest move has local residents furious, amid this latest attempt to rob Black people of their culture and their community.

Some realtors and store owners are making the move and attempting to rebrand the neighborhood, as NY1 reported. This is an effort by some interests to make the area appear trendy in an effort to appeal to outsiders. The name evokes images of other trendy Manhattan communities such as SoHo, Tribeca, NoMad and Nolita. However, the rebranding effort has Harlemites concerned that this initiative will only whitewash this capital of Black America and erase the history of this unique and historic part of New York City in the process.

Community and political leaders are speaking out.

“How dare someone try to rob our culture, and try to act as if we were not here, and create a new name, a new reality as if the clock started when other people showed up?” said State Senator-Elect Brian Benjamin at a recent news conference, according to NY1.

“No real estate company, no coffee shop, no business should be using the term SoHa to refer to Harlem,” added Danni Tyson, a Community Board 10 member and real estate broker. Tyson noted that Harlem already has a wonderful brand name that is known all over the world.

Rev. James Booker Jr., of St. John AME Church on W. 131st Street said that rebranding Harlem to increase profits for the New York real estate board would greatly diminish the economic strength of New York City. “Folks wanna change the name so they can move a lot of us who look like us out,” Rev. Booker told the New York Daily News.

One spoken word poet, Jaylene Clark, captured the sentiments of the community regarding gentrification with her poem “SpaHa” (short for Spanish Harlem) a few years ago:

Other folks have taken to social media to express their outrage and indignation, and express concerns over what is in store for Harlem and what needs to be done in response:

 Jem @JemClassic
Ya’ll want to live in Harlem but don’t want to accept it’s cultural history and name then stay the F out of Harlem.
Tony H@tonyhemp
? No it’s called , an area with a rich history and a vibrant community. Don’t whitewash history.
Hayling @BrotherHayling
Just hope the controversy leads to a real conversation about tenants rights, property ownership, and equitable community development.
Zo @zo_718
Go ahead, tell me you live in so I can punch your dumbass until you start bleeding kale
NYC11:16 PM – 28 May 2017

Home to such iconic institutions as the Schomburg Center and the Apollo Theater, Harlem has served as a cultural, political and economic center for Black America over the years and has cultivated generations of Black leadership. Now, Harlem, not unlike so many other cities across the nation, faces gentrification as indigenous Black residents are pushed out of communities they can no longer afford, becoming strangers in their own neighborhoods. From Atlanta, Austin and Baltimore to CharlestonMiami, New Orleans and San Francisco, gentrification is impacting people everywhere. This, as low-income people are evicted in order to make way for high-tech startups, hipsters and the well-to-do, those who have no stake in these spaces they invade and claim as their own and no appreciation for the people they displace.

This most recent controversy in Harlem comes as the New York borough of Brooklyn emerges as the most expensive place to live — in the country. Last year, Bloomberg reported that Brooklyn outpaced even Manhattan and San Francisco in its cost of living. The median sales price for housing is $615,000, and it takes 98 percent of Brooklyn residents’ median income to afford a monthly payment on a place to live. Investors dominate the market in Brooklyn, where 70 percent of people rent and rental prices are increasing.

In the Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn, where gentrification has taken hold, the famed two-story mural of the late rapper Biggie Smalls has been threatened with destruction. As Vibe reported, a landlord — who claimed he received complaints from tenants who claimed the mural received too much attention from tourists—  planned to remove the mural from the side of a building to add more windows and raise the rent. The creators of the mural reached an agreement with the landlord and the mural will remain for now.

But this is not over, as so many of our cultural institutions, our living spaces and our communities are whitewashed, rebranded and renamed, and the people threatened with removal, all for the sake of profits for others. Where does it leave us if we cannot even name our own home, much less live in it?

By David Love/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Gentrification Represents a Geography of Inequality

What does gentrification mean for the future of American cities? It means more than the arrival of trendy shops and expensive coffee. Peter Moskowitz intertwines human narratives with incisive analysis of the systemic forces contributing to America’s crises of race and inequality, in How to Kill a City. Click here now to order this book with a donation to Truthout!

The following is a Truthout interview with Peter Moskowitz, author of How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood.

Mark Karlin: How do you define gentrification?

Peter Moskowitz: Gentrification has many meanings, and I think that’s great — it’s a sign normal people are taking control of it and taking it away from super-academic territory. But in terms of cities, I think gentrification is essentially always a predictable, mostly top-down process of turning cities from community-controlled entities into neoliberal, capital-controlled entities. It may seem like gentrification is random — a coffee shop opens here, a block becomes more expensive there, but in every city it happens there’s a confluence of similar policy choice that leads to gentrification. The end goal always is to fund cities through trickle-down economics, to hope that attracting enough of the rich to your city will pay for its basic necessities. That’s a harsh reality for a lot of cities today because federal taxes are so low (about half what they were 40 years ago). So that means instead of the rich, via income taxes, paying for things like public education, public transit, streets, etc., cities attempt to fund those things via hipsters paying $4 for muffins. That’s how gentrification takes hold of city policy. That’s why it’s a bigger issue than hipsters.

How did you personally experience the impact of gentrification?

I grew up in the West Village of Manhattan, the same neighborhood Jane Jacobs wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities in. She saw the Village as the best example of what a neighborhood should be: human-scale, diverse, affordable. My parents bought a loft for next to nothing back in the early 80s. By the time I was an adult, they were some of the only original residents left. The rest had been bought out by millionaires and billionaires — people who do things like sell weapons to the US government and trade stocks on Wall Street. I could obviously not afford my own place in the Village anymore, so I moved to Queens, then Brooklyn. There, I found myself on the other side of the process as one of the young white people displacing communities of color. I knew I wasn’t necessarily personally responsible on an individual level for the wholesale change happening in these neighborhoods, but it made me deeply uncomfortable. What is this system that can help turn the neighborhood I grew up in into an upscale mall for billionaires, and then help me force out others in the process? That’s what got me interested in exploring these top-down efforts to gentrify cities — because I realized it was bigger than the individual level.

What is the role of capital in the process?

Capital controls all. Gentrification wouldn’t happen unless it was profitable — that sounds like such an obvious statement, but look at how it’s usually covered by the mainstream press: as an organic back-to-the-city movement. But developers don’t build condos for fun; they don’t lobby governments as a hobby. Gentrification happens because developers, and federal and state governments, made cities profitable to gentrify. You have to go back to the creation of the suburbs after the Great Depression to really understand it. The federal government convened a meeting of home builders after the depression and essentially said: how do we jumpstart the American economy, while ensuring that white people don’t live too close to people of color, and also while instilling American values at a time of growing progressivism? The solution: create the suburbs, create mortgages to make suburban home buying possible, and ‘redline’ communities of color so that you create a disinvested, mostly Black and Hispanic city, and a wealthy, nearly all white suburb. This would sound like a conspiracy if it weren’t so well documented in federal papers from the time. Fast forward to now, the same governments that helped make the city so cheap for real estate investors through a racist disinvestment are now hailing the suburbanites they gave housing wealth to and the developers they enriched via the suburbs as heroes for moving back downtown.

In what way does gentrification represent the new geography of inequality?

There’s no way to know hard numbers on this, but I would guess that in 20 years, most major American cities will look a lot more like European ones, but more unequal, with a rich, touristy center and a vast, poor outer section. We’re essentially seeing the geography of wealth reversed. Now people who might have come to the city 20 years ago — immigrants, the poor — are going to suburbs and exurbs, where housing is cheap, and where there are some low-wage jobs. Of course, building community, resistance, or anything else in the suburbs is really hard, so this is not a value-neutral reshaping. It essentially guarantees a certain kind of disconnected politic, with the rich, ruling class in city-based bubbles, and a disconnected mass of people spread out everywhere else (I’ve written about how this is the reason Dems lost the election).

Can you explain the process by which western Brooklyn and San Francisco became gentrified?

The process has been planned for decades and decades. It’s not a recent phenomenon. In the early 1900s, New York’s wealthiest got together and hatched a plan to deindustrialize New York, and bring in more wealthy property owners. It was good for the real estate industry, and good for bankers. New York City has essentially followed that plan to a T. That’s why New York deindustrialized so quickly in the post-war era (leading to its near-bankruptcy and the “Bad Old Days”) — it was a multi-decade plan to consolidate real estate wealth. People view New York’s changes as inevitable, but they were all sculpted by the richest New Yorkers. What you’re seeing now is essentially just a domino effect from that plan. New York’s center becomes wealthy, so its outer boroughs become upper-middle class, and the poor have to scramble elsewhere.

San Francisco has been a bit haphazard in its redevelopment — i.e., it didn’t have a century-long plan. But it has tried to achieve the same thing nonetheless via courting the tech industry: replacing a middle-class-friendly city with a rich-friendly one in order to increase real estate values and their tax base.

Your conclusion is entitled, “Toward an Un-Gentrified Future.” What are examples of some ways that goal would be achieved?

We gotta be in it for the long haul. The US is based on a history of displacement, from the genocide of Native Americans to redlining in the 1950s. It’s in the country’s blood to accumulate capital that way. There are some commonsense ways to protect renters — increased rent control, caps on rent, that kind of thing (Berlin is a good example of this). But for a chance at a truly equitable city in the future, we need to radically rethink land and housing. Housing wasn’t mentioned once during the presidential election. We don’t often see protests over housing, even though it’s our main living cost. We need to really politicize land and housing in this country if we want to see any movement in the right direction.

By Mark Karlin, Truthout | Interview

Posted by The NON-Conformist

 

Can Neighborhoods Be Revitalized Without Gentrifying Them?

Baltimore’s new housing plan could provide a form of neighborhood uplift that benefits communities, not developers.

Last year, the death of Freddie Gray in police custody placed his neighborhood in a tragic spotlight, highlighting an all-too common urban misery: epidemic poverty, blighted lots, and shattered homes. Gray’s Baltimore has become notorious as the site of failed “urban renewal” projects, rife with liberal talking points but showing precious little progress in alleviating poverty and joblessness. There’s now a plan to generate change from the inside out, creating community housing as a source of collective healing.

Facing a change in administration in pending elections, activists are pushing a plan before the City Council to devote about $40 million to housing development, not just to fix up vacancies or construct commercial towers but to overhaul neighborhoods through developing Community Land Trusts. As we’ve reported before, the idea would be to establish communally owned property under a democratic governance structure, which allows residents and the surrounding neighborhood to cooperatively manage land and property use.

Baltimore struggles with both massive abandoned vacancies and pockets of gentrification. Residents face tracts of sky-high rents alongside chronically neglected housing stock, dividing wealthy and impoverished areas. Now the Baltimore Housing Roundtable, a coalition of grassroots groups, envisions a plan to curb displacement and rationalize the twisted housing market. It sees joint ownership as a path to revitalizing community oriented housing.

While CLTs are generally associated with suburban development, primarily single-family homes, Roundtable advocates say CLTs fostered by Baltimore’s neighborhood groups can enhance family quality of life and boost economic and civic opportunity.

Through years of gentrification and deindustrialization, the housing market has polarized. Millions of low-income units have vanished, often swallowed by predatory developers. Meanwhile, more than 66,500 households are constantly at risk of eviction due to non-payment. According to the Roundtable’s research published in January, “approximately one-third of Baltimore households were homeless or at risk of homelessness.” Amid eroding tax bases and impoverished schools, political malaise exacerbates urban depression, the Roundtable reports: “Baltimore City officials have offered no housing plan or community development plan that is responsive to those most in need, the poor working class or fixed income families” in the lowest income bracket, particularly in recession-battered black communities.

Under the CLT’s cooperative ownership structure, the resident owns the property, while the community retains the land. The resident pays an annual leasing fee, plus other mortgage and maintenance expenses. When the property is sold, price is controlled through a prearranged agreement with a community authority, with representation from neighbors and “public stakeholders” such as local officials or community-development organizations. The homeowner can share in any appreciation of the sales value.

When these community controls are leveraged against market forces, neighborhoods can ensure a communally managed recycling of ownership, and avoid the frenzied churn of renters and developers commonly associated with boom-bust speculation and gentrification.

The model could also be applied to commercial properties, including self-sustaining small businesses in struggling neighborhoods. Or it could help establish community space, as East Baltimore’s Amazing Grace Lutheran Church has already done by stewarding a recreational green space known as the “sacred commons.”

The CLT advocates seek two tranches of $20 million each, one to raze and dismantle neglected vacant properties (providing an estimated 650 living-wage jobs for local residents), and another $20 million for long-term investment in building and implementing different communities’ homegrown CLT plans.

Todd Cherkis of the community-labor group United Workers says the Roundtable is developing an array of potential projects, including rental or owner-occupied property; some possible projects are already underway but lack the private funding to go large-scale. One possibility might be enhancing a housing project for youth at risk of homelessness; another would create a solar-farm project in Curtis Bay, which activists have framed as a green alternative-development plan for an area previously flagged as a potential site for new polluting incinerator. “Residents and leaders in these different communities are really coming together to really make that vision themselves,” he says.

Cherkis says the debate over the distribution of funding would involve public deliberation, with a focus on disadvantaged groups like single parents, seniors on fixed incomes, and people returning home from prison.

If the proposal moves toward implementation, communities will weigh “a real diverse incubator of community-driven efforts,” Cherkis says, and as a democratic effort, “that diversity will also prove to be a strength.” Besides, Baltimore knows what the alternative—unilateral, profiteering corporate development—can do.

“When we’re leaving it up to the market to solve the housing crisis…it’s a failure,” Cherkis says. Instead, “The only other way to do this is for the public to invest” to correct “speculative pressures,” which “would create lots of jobs…and create the kind of affordability [needed for] a city where arts can thrive, where small business and creativity can thrive.”

Chris Lafferty of the community development organization North East Housing Initiative, discusses the CLT framework in the Roundtable’s report from a racial justice angle, as a strategy of “arresting decline and enabling the creation and maintenance of communities that are sustainable, as well as ethnically, racially, and economically diverse.”

The plan remains somewhat uncharted terrain. Historically, urban “renewal” has entailed two contrasting approaches to development: one is using subsidies to move public housing families into middle-class areas with better education and job prospects. But, alternatively, place-based investment, trying to change a neighborhood’s climate and social dynamics, poses a greater challenge than helping people move. Nonetheless, Johns Hopkins sociologist Stefanie DeLuca, author of a forthcoming book on urban inequality, argues that the basic principle is, “neighborhood matters.” While targeted-relocation programs help some families, she says, “we can’t leave our cities behind or these neighborhoods,” and policymakers should also prioritize “improving communities in place so that families don’t have to leave them to find opportunity.”

The CLT may be an unprecedented citywide effort to turn residents, often seen as victims of structural inequality, into community planners.

Approaching the anniversary of Freddie Gray’s death, many doubt justice will be delivered in court. But outside, his neighborhood may be seeding the foundations of a new home. Land held in trust can infuse a neighborhood with invaluable hope, beyond its market value—an investment that everyone, with a little commitment, can afford.

By Michelle Chen/TheNation

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Marcus Books of San Francisco evicted

 

Image: sfbg.com

For months, we’ve been covering the story of Marcus Books, the nation’s oldest continuously operating black-owned, black-themed bookstore located in San Francisco’s Fillmore District. Facing eviction from the purple Victorian where the bookstore had operated since 1981, the family that owns it had launched an ambitious fundraising campaign in an effort to remain in place. Widespread community support for the culturally significant bookstore even led to the Board of Supervisors granting landmark status for the bookstore’s Fillmore Street address, on account of “its long-term association with Marcus Books … and for its association with Jimbo’s Bop City, one of the City’s most famous, innovative and progressive jazz clubs.”

More from San Francisco Bay Guardian 

 

Posted by The NON-Conformist