To Be a Good Neighbor
Outsider moves into a new neighborhood — it’s a decent house, inexpensive, and the realtor used the words “up-and-coming.” Some like to say it’s getting “cleaned up,” or, in an even less tactful way, “nearing complete gentrification.”
In other words: the poor black and brown (and sometimes white) people are on their way out.
Meanwhile, Columbus remains the second most economically segregated city in the country — a ranking that seems to indicate the need for more mixed-income neighborhoods. The question, as posed to CU’s Big Table participants, is how to create a mixed-income neighborhood responsibly, and how to, if entering an “up-and-coming” neighborhood, be part of the growth of the community, not the displacement of it.
First and foremost, Big Table-goers say new residents should understand that they’re entering an established community, and that any expectations they have should likely be checked at the door.
Jasmine Ayres, a local community organizer and former candidate for Columbus City Council, says people need to find value in their neighbors to even make the first step of introducing themselves.
“I think a lot of these folks think these people got stuck in these neighborhoods,” Ayres says. “There are people who live in these neighborhoods, who live in Linden, who could easily move out and have the resources to move out, but they love their neighborhood, and they don’t wanna do that.”
“This is already somebody else’s neighborhood. Understand and respect what that means,” adds Seth Draeger, a South Side business owner and former resident. “Learn how the neighborhood works, what the people who live there love about it, what they get out of it. I think people can come in feeling they’re doing a bunch of good but actually have a negative impact.”
Sure, it’s not inherently bad to buy an inexpensive fixer upper and rehab it into a homier environment. But, it is unreasonable to assume that those in neighboring houses have the resources to do the same. Expecting each home on the block to rise to the same aesthetic standards is what leads many to call code enforcement on their new neighbors — a move that more than likely just saddles someone with a fine for a problem they may not have had the expendable income to fix in the first place.
Maria Bruno, from the Coalition of Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, says just getting to know the neighborhood, and not just the neighbors that share the same skin color or economic background, will nip a lot of problems in the bud. Someone is a lot less likely to call code enforcement on a friend who needs a new porch, or call the cops on a friend just sitting on one:
“There was a guy in my neighborhood who spent a lot of time on his front porch, sometimes on his own, sometimes with his mom,” says Bruno. She went to meet the man herself and learned he had a mental disability. And he just liked to sit on his porch. “My neighbor was ready to call the police because this dude was sitting in his front yard and it was making her uncomfortable.”
So, there’s another way to not be that neighbor: don’t call the cops for nonsense reasons. If no one is being directly harmed, consider some alternative options, such as confronting the situation personally or with another neighbor. Immediately involving law enforcement erodes people’s sense of security in their own community.
“In 40 years in my neighborhood, I called the cops twice,” says Jim Ebright, 40-year resident of Olde Towne East. “What I found was that over the years people got to know me, knew I wasn’t going to call the cops, knew I was friendly and approachable.”
Most Big Table participants agreed that the first step in affecting positive change in a community is looking at the efforts already going on. The large majority of neighborhoods have associations and community organizations dedicated to mending social and economic issues — involvement in groups like those would 1) facilitate the breaking of barriers between neighbors and 2) demonstrate personal, long-term investment in a community.
“I think there’s a stigma attached to being poor, like you’re lazy or not worthy. So, to me, it’s that mindset that needs to shift when they move into these neighborhoods,” says Ayres, who grew up on the North Side. “You have to find your neighbors valuable.”