A few days before Christmas, I visited my hometown Brooklyn, N.Y.
While I was back in the New York City area, I dropped by one of my closet friend’s job to hang out and shoot the s*** with him.
As we sat down and caught up about old friends, the latest NYC trends, music, etc., John and I shifted our conversation from the mentioned topics to the neighborhood where he works -Chinatown.
While admiring the hustle and bustle that epitomizes Chinatown he told me,
“You know, Chinatown is one of the only neighborhoods in the City that doesn’t have a Starbucks.”
I wasn’t exactly sure about the legitimacy of his statement but nonetheless, I still believed him.
In a place like Manhattan when Starbucks, the generally-accepted indicator of a financially and demographically changing neighborhood, pops up you can expect the neighborhood to drastically change over the course of a couple of years.
As I sat and thought about John’s statement, he made even more of a point to show me the Chinatown Eastern Tower, a new, luxury residential tower that’s being constructed a couple of blocks away from his job.
As a concerned city-slicker and connoisseur of everything New York City, he was quick to add that the construction of Extell’s (an American real estate developer that specializes in projects varying from residential to mixed-used properties) Chinatown Eastern Tower is an omen of the coming of people and cultures that would otherwise have never had stepped foot in Chinatown and the Lower East Side had it not been for the tower.
As mentioned, he’s not completely alone in believing this. In the article, “Residents Fear New Luxury Tower Will Destroy Chinatown & LES”, author Steven Wishnia states,
“The tower being built by Extell at 250 South Street will make rents skyrocket… Chinatown and the southern portion of the Lower East Side are now largely inhabited by working-class immigrants, and there are several large public housing projects in the area, along with the more middle-class Grand Street co-ops. Protestors said they feared the Extell Tower would accelerate gentrification”
So as you can see, the ramifications of the Chinatown Eastern Tower are very real- gentrification seems inevitable. With that said, I think it’s paramount that we discuss what actually is gentrification.
By definition, gentrification is the process by which the influx of wealthy residents to a lower-income neighborhood raises the property value of the neighborhood and further displaces lower-income families and businesses.
As true as this may seem, most of us don’t consciously see gentrification this way.
Instead, we (the local lower-income families of said neighborhood) have a tendency to perceive gentrification as the influx of businesses, cultures, and people that invade our neighborhoods, force us to pay more for goods and services, and deal with pretentious assholes who don’t fit in our neighborhoods.
In other words, we see the Starbucks being built in our neighborhoods (R.I.P. Crown Heights), the waves of people with money that would never have stepped foot in our neighborhoods prior to businesses and residential buildings of their liking being built, and so on.
These chains of events usually lead to folks, like Spike Lee, getting up in arms about the negative effects of gentrification and how it completely disregards the identity of the preexisting neighborhoods.
And yes, Spike isn’t wrong in believing and saying so. In fact, he’s quite right.
However, when you’re living in hyper-capitalistic metropoles, this is inevitable. Money talks and cash rules all.
Despite this being the case, it gives people no right to have a complete disregard for the preexisting identity and culture of the neighborhood that they’re about to move into.
It is with these admonishing words that I implore all you potential affluent individuals who plan on moving into lower-income neighborhoods to listen very f****** carefully.
Seriously. It’s simple in nature but critical that you read these words very carefully.
Respect the locals
One of the most prominent examples of gentrification that I’ve witnessed was during my time in college at the University at Albany in Albany, New York.
Located in the abysmal capital that is Albany, New York, the university sat uneasily on what used to be a golf course.
With the golf course gone and the university constructed, the University at Albany is now home to awkwardly designed student dorms and academic buildings.
Roughly 4 miles south of the bizarre main campus lies what some people mistakenly call “the student ghettos”.
For those who call it such, go f*** yourself. It isn’t a ghetto that is designated for students. It’s actually the home to thousands of local people who just so happen to share their neighborhood and identity with the student populace. So, don’t get it twisted.
If you conceptually think of the neighborhood as something that omits the year-long, born and raised residents, then you’re epitomizing the culture that is gentrification – having a complete disregard for the locals because you think your money permits you to do so. Do not, I repeat, do not do this.
Respect the locals and their businesses. Matter of fact, invest in the locals and their businesses. Revel in their festivities. Get to know the local business owners.
Help tutor kids at the local schools. Participate in community events.
Help them help you instead of displacing them from the place that’s been home to them for as long as anyone can remember. Your money and status says nothing about who you are as person. Keep that in mind.
In conclusion, don’t fret John. Be vigilant. Remind the newcomers that they must share the same living space with those who can’t afford the same luxurious lifestyle that they do.
No matter how high or low they sit up in their lofts, they still sit on the same lands as you- the people whose blood, sweat, and tears birthed the identity and culture of the neighborhood.