By Raina Kansagra
Modernizing communities and boosting the economy has been a goal of American cities since the birth of this nation, but not all of the means of doing so are entirely advantageous. There are countless low-income or impoverished areas in this country that suffer from issues that are some of the worst that our nation faces today. These include the lack of proper education in poorer communities, as well as an absence of sufficient resources for families like affordable housing, jobs, and healthcare. While these are severe and significant issues, gentrification is the biggest concern that prevails in cities across the United States, because it is too often the root of the aforementioned issues.
Gentrification is the influx of affluence into lower class or impoverished urban neighborhoods in an attempt to transform them into emerging middle class areas, and while there are beneficial motives behind this process, the extremely detrimental effects are worse. Gentrification is an underrated issue that plagues our nation that more people need to start caring about.
While it may seem like a simple concept to improve the socioeconomic status of a city by renovating and upscaling the areas that fall below the standards of the “better” areas of the city, there is so much being overlooked when making this conclusion. Within each of these underdeveloped sections, there exists a history and a culture that gentrification disrupts and destructs.
The people affected by this practice are most often immigrants and minorities-- people who have started a life with little to nothing in this country and have gotten stuck in a cycle of poverty or just barely making it, and are given minimal hope of finding better. Most Americans today have come from immigrants, whether it be Europeans who colonized the nation or refugees fleeing unliveable situations in their native countries.
While all immigrants have seen struggle, it is more often the people of color who find themselves stuck. The history of people of color and their treatment and view in society throughout history speaks for itself; racial barriers have prevailed in our nation as long as it has existed, and inequality is still in existence today, regardless of whether the racism is de jure or de facto. Because of this, areas of lower economic status and opportunity are, more often than not, occupied by minorities.
But, like any form of civilization, these areas create a community and foster a culture. A culture centered around local traditions, habits, businesses, and life. Gentrification is the process by which all of that is stripped away.
Gentrification transforms the character of a community by removing all that gave it its old identity, and instead creating a new community catered towards the middle-class. This means new industries and new residences, which inevitably means higher prices and higher cost of living. As rent skyrockets and businesses change to adapt to a rapidly-advancing economy, how are the lower class families and workers expected to keep up?
The supposed improvement to the community instead disrupts what existed beforehand; the local businesses have been replaced with larger corporations and the affordable housing is now transformed into more expensive residences. Not only is the culture of the area gone, but the people are forced to leave with it when they can no longer afford to live in their homes or don’t have the background to work for the companies. Countless families are rendered homeless or displaced, robbing them of the fortune they found in what was initially an unfortunate situation, causing the cycle to begin again.
While this is not always the case and there are success stories behind gentrification, this situation is still too often reality. Affluence is forced into an area and the culture and community are forced out; the process of gentrification has good intentions, but is too frequently poorly carried out and only perpetuates the cycle of poverty and injustice that millions are victims of. With this careless process occurring in every corner of urban settings, where are our people supposed to turn?
So before we mindlessly turn our focus to turning cities into sparkly new and modern areas, we need to stop and think: at what cost?