The Word Alive

“Examining history amounts to examining the nature of power.”

Guy Debord

I am sure you have heard over and over again the propaganda: “small businesses keep our community alive.” Yet, what is subtly omitted is the question of WHO and WHAT of the community is being kept alive? It is not the low-income minorities WHICH are being “kept alive” by these businesses (the new historicism of economic displacement ). I mean, HOW is a $7 cup of coffee affordable for a big part of most communities? Instead, WHERE small businesses decide to speak up for “the community” they are creating a vision of what the community should be comprised of. WHEN did gentrification become part of the definition of the word alive?

As people are priced out of neighborhoods like the one where my mother, Ivonne Torres de Leon, lives – the Lower East Side – census records show that the minorities population has receded away. Sí, a big part of the older community of Loisaida is vanishing, they are being replaced! And similar hostile processes of displacement and conquest (colonialism again!) have led gentrification to be described as the new segregation.

Now, what is gentrification? Why does it occur? What are the forces and conditions that bring it about?

Gentrification is a broad word for the appearance of richer persons in a surviving city, a correlated rise in rent payment and property prices, and alterations in the city’s culture and atmosphere. The word is frequently seen as negative, signifying the dislocation of underprivileged groups of people by wealthy newcomers. Yet the impact of gentrification is multifaceted and conflicting, and its effects fluctuate.

Several characteristics of the process of gentrification are desired. What neighborhood wouldn’t want to see new investments in infrastructure and buildings and the economic activity improved? Regrettably, these changes’ benefits are habitually enjoyed in disproportion by the newcomers, whereas the conventional occupants become socially and economically marginalized.

Gentrification has caused throbbing struggle in numerous cities, repeatedly alongside economic and racial lines. Community modification is frequently regarded as a social justice breakdown where wealthy new arrivals are applauded for “refining” a community, which residents (poor and part of a minority) are evacuated through a rapid increase in rent and economic changes.

The physical, economic, and social effects of gentrification repeatedly end in grim political clash, worsened by dissimilarities in race, class, and culture. Former residents feel besieged, overlooked, ignored, left out, unwanted… excluded from their community. Newcomers are time and again perplexed by claims that their determinations to develop local surroundings are observed as antagonistic or racist.

But we do know that change is the only constant. And change in wealth, in inhabitants, in the physical make of communities has been the constant history of city life.

Yet change implicates winners and implicates losers. With the low-income individuals being seldom part of the winners. Residents, city governments, community development corporations… and ALL of us need to acknowledge and act upon the effects of gentrification so that we can help reconstruct together a fair result for everyone.

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