Keeping Gentrification Out of Revitalizing Communities
On May 17, the Columbus Foundation held a day of community conversation, dubbed The Big Table. Around the city, hundreds hosted and participated in these conversations, some open-ended, and some targeting specific issues and ideas relevant to community connectivity and growth. At Columbus Underground, we hosted three of our own Big Table discussions, bringing together neighborhood activists, leaders, decision makers, and stakeholders to get a better understanding of food insecurity, community-police relations, gentrification and economic segregation.
The goal wasn’t to solve each problem in one hour-long talk fueled by donuts and Peanut M&Ms. Rather, it was to get people on all sides of the problem in one room, introduce them, and see what comes of it. And, while each meeting consisted of different people addressing a different problem, a commonality existed among them: everyone gained a new perspective and broadened their network, linking more minds into the city’s collective consciousness.
Gentrification and Economic Segregation
These two concepts are separate, but related. It’s long been said that the best communities are mixed-income, where you can find a lawyer living next to a mechanic living next to someone who’s unemployed. When wealthy people are in a neighborhood, it’s safer and well-resourced. Cops respond faster, and the schools tend to be better.
At CU’s Big Table discussion on these topics, community members and developers discussed the juggling act that it takes to transform a low-income neighborhood into a mixed-income neighborhood without displacing the residents or the culture they’ve formed.
The first step in understanding gentrification is defining it and learning when the term should or shouldn’t be used. A 10-story mixed use building going up in the North Market parking lot does not count as gentrification — no one is being displaced except for some parking spaces. Low income housing being knocked down to make way for luxury housing, without giving those low income people another place to go within their community, is gentrification. People are being displaced in the name of development.
Luxury housing isn’t innately bad. Low-income communities need housing for middle income and wealthy individuals just as high-income neighborhoods need housing for low-income individuals. Knowing where to put it, and incentivizing private developers to want to develop there is the tricky part. Development in the Short North is still subsidized, even though it’s a highly coveted neighborhood to live in. One question that came up in the discussion is “Should subsidies go to developers on a priority basis?” Grandview needs more affordable housing, and the Hilltop needs more expensive housing, but who’s willing to start building?
And, once people move in, what is it going to do to the neighborhood culture that’s been long-established? Trent Smith, Executive Director for the Franklinton Board of Trade, said people often move into up and coming neighborhoods with the wrong attitude.
“If you want to be part of the revitalization of Franklinton or any other neighborhood, you should want to be part of the revitalization of the way it is, not the way you think it’s gonna be 10 years from now,” Smith said.
Writer, blogger, thought leader and speaker Stephanie Mitchell Hughes agreed, saying “people need to come in and accept the community.”
“I think of people coming in to the community and telling the community, ‘No, we’re not going to come in and meet you where you are, because you really don’t have anything of value to contribute anyway, because if you did, you wouldn’t be living like this. No, we’re going to show you what to do and how you’re going to live,’” she added.
Hughes, who started life over 11 years ago “from virtually nothing,” stressed the importance of being an active community member by not just coming in and living life separate from low-income neighbors. In order for revitalization to work for everyone — along with targeting high priority neighborhoods for development — new residents should support and integrate into the community they join.
“Regardless of who we are, be of service to other people,” she said. “I have to have skin in the game within my community. Rather than looking at is as divided, you have to look at it in total.”