My great friend, Barrington Salmon, wrote an excellent piece for The Washington Informer describing the reaction of Washington, DC’s black residents to the negative impacts of gentrification. The piece got me thinking about race and community development and where policy makers are lacking in their ability to reconcile two competing community interests.
I don’t blame white people for wanting to move back into the city. The suburbs are not what they are cracked up to be. Having lived in south Frederick County, Maryland for almost two years and suffering from a lack of cable-modem provided broadband (DSL sucks), and having to drive 30 minutes to a decent grocery store and a hour and a half to work, I can see why people would get fed up and move closer to jobs and business opportunities. This is the trend worldwide where 70% of the globe is expected to live in urban areas by 2030.
A significant number of young white people also want to live in diverse communities, making a conscious, noble effort to rid themselves of their grandparents “white flight” legacy.
What I’m seeing, however, is policymakers failing to reconcile the needs of two different communities wanting to occupy the same space. Black residents, relatively poorer with no where near the capital amassed to buffer against economic downturns or to leverage to find affordable housing, have different community needs from white residents, who, on average, have greater capital which gives them the flexibility to focus on needs that are less economic.
While most blacks are concerned about jobs and adequate healthcare within their neighborhoods, whites are concerned about the neighborhoods aesthetics; ball parks and green spaces. Unfortunately here in Atlanta the “soccer mom” preferences for ballparks and green spaces are winning out.
That is why the Beltline project here in Atlanta is being funded, diverting hundreds of millions of dollars in city resources to build 22 miles of trail and light rail to connect neighborhoods whose residents quite frankly want to have nothing to do with each other. According to one report I read, almost a billion dollars spent for a mere $100 million in economic activity does not give me confidence that low income blacks are going to benefit from soccer mom preferences.
If policy leaders are to generate any confidence in their ability to manage a local economy, they will have to do a better job getting out front of these conflicting interests, otherwise blacks in DC will be moving to West Virginia and blacks in Atlanta will find themselves in south Alabama …