Gentrification signs

This morning the Washington Post published a story about a D.C. homeowner’s very individual approach to opposing change in his neighborhood. Milfred Ellis posted three anti-gentrification signs in his Brightwood home’s front yard.

Anti-gentrification signs in Washington yard. Photo by author.

Anti-gentrification signs in Washington yard. Photo by author.

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Post reporter Perry Stein is doing a solid job covering gentrification and other changes in Washington’s neighborhoods. I think her definition of gentrification is too broad, though: “gentrification is, by definition, wealthier residents displacing longtime poorer residents in neighborhoods.” There’s a compelling case for displacement and demographic change in Mr. Ellis’ neighborhood but there doesn’t appear to be a solid case for the disinvestment that’s essential to any rigorous definition of “gentrification.”

The signs in the Ellis yard are a great illustration of individual/neighborhood resistance to change that is being driven by the same forces that also underlie gentrification: real estate speculation. I think signs posted on utility poles near his home, though, tell the rest of the story:

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“We Buy Houses” sign above a bike route sign, Brightwood neighborhood, Washington, D.C.

© 2015 D.S. Rotenstein

 

A reply to Mouzon

Earlier this week, new urbanist starchitect and writer Steve Mouzon and I swapped words on gentrification — 140 characters at a time. Mouzon extols the lean virtues of Twitter’s platform. I find it useless for meaningful dialogue.

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The Decatur teardown & the Washington pop-up

Gentrification: a global process locally interpreted.

The Decatur, Georgia, teardown & McMansion:

Teardown.

Teardown.

McSomething.

McBunker.

and

The Washington, D.C., pop-up:

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Both create jarring visual discontinuities and both remove affordable housing options from local markets. At least in Washington, there’s a civil debate about pop-ups and local news outlets are covering it from all perspectives. Now that’s refreshing.

© 2015 D.S. Rotenstein

The urban displacement blues

Look closely and you will see not a damaged and decrepit Mississippi River town, but the anguish and despair of inner-city neighborhoods across the United States. — Steve Goldstein for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 19, 1992.

KingBiscuit-03Helena, Arkansas, in the 1980s was a struggling Mississippi River port town when city leaders embarked on an ambitious economic turnaround using blues music and history as its foundation. I first visited Helena in the early stages of this “revitalization” during the spring of 1988 while working as a folklorist for the State of Arkansas. Results of some of my research there were published in a 1992 Southern Folklore article, “The Helena Blues: Cultural Tourism and African-American Folk Music.”

Ethnomusicology was the basis for my work in Helena and the subsequent article. Concepts like displacement and gentrification weren’t on my radar screen as I turned ethnographic experiences into written accounts. More than 25 years later I look back on Helena’s efforts to jumpstart its economy and the social engineering that went into turning the city away from its industrial past and towards its tourism-based future and I see the forces reshaping cities around the world in play in the Mississippi Delta. Continue reading