THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
Gentrification / A Call
For Responsible Neighboring
For Responsible Neighboring
WEEK IV / DAY V
Friday, March 9, 2018
Scripture / Jeremiah 29:7
Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
Our History and Its Legacy
In 2014, the United Nations reported that for the first time in history more people live in urban areas than in rural areas. Fifty-four percent of the world’s population live in cities. This is increasingly the case in the United States. With the advent of desegregation, as well as the Voting Rights Act (1965) and the Fair Housing Act (1968), urban sprawl/white flight from the city led to a mass exodus into newly created suburbs (also referred to as ‘exurbs’). During those times, living in the city was viewed as the bottom rung of the economic ladder. The inner cities were where rings of industry (downtown) existed. The cities were where immigrants and the working class resided. To progress upward, the expectation was to move out to wealthier suburbia.
Today, in a reversal of those sensibilities, more people are finding cities desirable as cities undergo what journalist Alan Ehrenhalt calls a “demographic inversion.” More people who can afford to live where they want to live are choosing cities. Minorities, who have primarily resided in city neighborhoods, are now being supplanted by those who differ from them both racially and socioeconomically.
The general term for the influx of wealthier people into an existing urban neighborhood is gentrification. This also brings with it related increases in rent and property values, as well as changes in the district’s character and culture. On the surface, this appears to be an overall good thing. Many studies show drastic reduction in crime as well as increases in property values. If the rubric by which we evaluate a community’s development is contingent upon these factors, then one would surmise that gentrification is a success. The issue isn’t whether or not gentrification is evil or good. The question should be, “For whom is gentrification a success?”
As redeemed image bearers of our creator, we are called to uphold the mission of our creator - to seek the peace and prosperity of the city. But what does that actually mean? This call isn’t to care for the land mass of the city and not the inhabitants therein. We are called to seek the welfare of it’s citizens. This means that responsible neighboring should be characterized by the following:
In order for those from a majority culture who are moving into a predominantly minority urban community to be seen as helpful and not hurtful, a posture of superiority must be identified and rooted out. Newcomers can’t reflect that of a colonizing adventurer who has arrived to civilize and save the community. This isn’t the heart of a good neighbor. A responsible neighbor exchanges the pronouns “those” and “them” for “we” and “us.” It is in this spirit of humility that we can lament together with our neighbors the ways in which peace and prosperity are precluded for them.
Gentrification doesn’t have to be a net loss for those who didn’t leave, if gentrifiers move there with a sense of obligation to learn and build relationships with them. This means when moving into a neighborhood, ask the question “What are these neighbors doing?” or “What do they need?” If you move into a gentrifying neighborhood and your first desire is to see a Pilates studio and a coffee shop built, it may be time to subordinate your agenda to your neighbors’ more pressing concerns - possibly police brutality, housing, or education. This means that both the gentrifiers and the gentrified coalesce in communities where trust is engendered and alternatives can be created.
Reflection and Response
While the inevitability of gentrification is readily apparent, the responsibility of gospel neighbors is to mitigate its effects on our neighbors’ ability to flourish. We cannot help but to strive for this imperfectly, but as believers we cling to a hope of the complete restoration of all things. In a world riddled with brokenness and inequity, the call to seek peace and prosperity is a signpost of a perfectly whole and just kingdom to come.
So in the words of E.M. Forster in A Room With A View, "We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won't do harm - yes, choose a place where you won't do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine."
Written by Darryl Ford