Fake art and the right to stay put

How many layers of resistance are embedded in this poster?

This poster is one of three affixed to a boarded-up storefront in Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood. The storefront, like many other properties in this community East of the Anacostia River, is an active worksite in the Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. corridor. Anacostia once was a predominantly African American neighborhood stigmatized for its poverty and its perceived high crime. Now, Anacostia is prime real estate ripe for reinvestment, redevelopment, and gentrification.

Public space like the boarded-up storefront is a communications free-for-all where graffiti tags compete with concert flyers, community event announcements, and protest statements. With advocacy organizations and artists appropriating the language and imagery of resistance and commodifying it, discerning who is doing the resisting and why becomes fraught. Continue reading

Things that arrive in the spring

The spring brought new things to Africville, things which were not pretty like flowers, nor sweet smelling like the sea air. The newest things in Africville were suit-wearing, briefcase-toting white men — Leslie Ann Carvery, Africville My Home (2016).

In communities of color, folks know that whenever this happens, bad things follow.

Two Halifax city officials, one holding a rolled plan of Africville, outside an Africville house, prior to demolition of the community. Credit: Nova Scotia Archives, Bob Brooks Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1989-468 vol. 16 / negative sheet 5 image 25 .

 

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 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

Riffing on the Trail of Tears

I’m a troll, so say residents of Decatur, Georgia’s Oakhurst neighborhood.

Why? Because I spoke and wrote on taboo topics: gentrification and racism in their neighborhood while I lived there.

Whether folks see the redevelopment taking place in Oakhurst as destructive gentrification or beneficial neighborhood upgrading, most people on both sides agree that the neighborhood is changing, taxes are rising, and residents are being displaced. If you’re on the neighborhood conservation and social justice side of the table, it’s bad. If you’re on the other side and a property rights defender or work in the real estate/construction business, it’s good. The commentary from both sides may be found in local blogs, community listservs, and in testimony before the city commission.

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