Culture by definition is not expected to be static and when its eradication is sped up when capital seeks to occupy a vacuum. Culture, the skills, arts, etc., of a given people at a given time are, in my opinion, contingent on a particular eco-system and eco-systems are subject to change. Some change slower than others but none are guaranteed to last indefinitely.
This reality is overlooked by “black” Americans who are taken aback by the changes in their neighborhoods driven by an influx of capital with the purpose of making their neighborhoods more affluent or upscale with the endgame of selling renovated property for a capital gain.
I am extra mindful of this today given that 50 yards from my window here in the West End of Atlanta, an annual street festival is taking place to showcase, I suppose, the upside of an otherwise stagnant neighborhood. You see more whites in the neighborhood during this event than any other time of the year. Were it not for the white flight of the 1950s and 1960s the West End, which was once its own town, would still be majority white. But white flight like the capital held by whites ebbs and flows like a tide and the tide of investment is pounding the beachhead of this southwest Atlanta neighborhood.
With foreclosed properties and average household incomes around $23,000 to $25,000 a year, the West End is a target rich environment of distressed properties. Capital abhors a vacuum and as events like the street festival brings its annual scouts to the area, capital should attach itself to the profitable opportunities it finds.
The push back against gentrification usually poses arguments that mix morality and community economics. “If rents get too high, where will the people go?” “The neighborhood has been ‘black’ for decades and we’ll lose our culture if this continues.” “The white man likes our culture but doesn’t like us so he’s pushing us out.”
The arguments are heartfelt, coming from a morality honed from the brutality of slavery, the violence and humiliation of Jim Crow, and the systemic discrimination so engrained in the economy that at times it is analyzed and accepted so dispassionately by those whose histories have nothing in common with blacks. In the end, however, given the current decisionmaking process that accompanies capitalism, its impact on eco-systems, and no guarantee of a static culture, the arguments, no matter how morally driven, make no difference. Neighborhoods will change.
The question is, if one wants to maintain a neighborhood’s culture; that certain feel, look, and rhythm, what changes in the mindset of its inhabitants are necessary?
First, property owners will have to address the differences in investment approaches in their own ranks. Some property owners welcome the potential change. They want new capital and the benefits that come with it: new consumer and job opportunities. Other property owners are willing to sacrifice increases in commercial activity in exchange for maintaining the community’s “blackness” which usually means keeping blacks in the majority of the community’s populace.
Yes, affinity brings comfort but that affinity could devolve into familiarity breeding contempt if opportunity and capital do not flow into a community. “We look alike but we poor together” just doesn’t fly.
Community leadership should focus on aggragating investment capital from within the commmunity in order to spend that capital on one or two projects that provide labor with job opportunities while generating returns to investors. Opportunities and income should be recycled in the community first increasing the level of affluence in the community. Leakage of income, output, and opportunity should be minimized.
In addition, community leadership should be more aggressive in incubating business startups. Work needs to be done to encourage a diversification of businesses while mentoring startups around the pitfalls that all too often lead to their early exit.
In short it will take action. Moral arguments made to government officials provide no long term solutions. Continued investments and strategic partnerships hold the key to tweaking gentrification where affluence can be generated within a community for the people already there…..
….. but you have to want it…..