I had a two-day migraine last week and now seem to be battling a cold, so — suffice to say writing energy and focus is low, and time scarce. In the meantime, here’s some stuff I’ve been reading on the internet I’ve been thinking about when not following #teamharpy.
Jacobin Magazine recently published a bitter analysis of the forces of gentrification by Gavin Mueller that has returned my thinking to urban history and politics:
Gentrification has always been a top-down affair, not a spontaneous hipster influx, orchestrated by the real estate developers and investors who pull the strings of city policy, with individual home-buyers deployed in mopping up operations. …
“What choice do I have?” ask the liberal gentrifiers, if you press them a bit. “This is the only place I can afford to live!” This sums everything up perfectly, puncturing the bubble of individual choices that make up liberal politics.
You have no choice; everything’s been decided ahead of time. If you want the American dream of a middle-class life with a home you own in the city in which you work, you have few other choices than to join the shock troops of the onslaught against the urban poor. Align with big capital and the repressive state in the conquest of the city, and maybe you’ll have enough equity to send your kids to college.
Maybe because of the Jacobin piece, or because of the series on Uprooting Racism I’ve been doing over at the Amiable Archivists Salon, I’ve been thinking about gentrification a lot lately. This piece by Dannette Lambert on “20 Ways Not to be a Gentrifier” from the Oakland Local is always worth a re-read:
If you come into someone’s home, do you immediately start rearranging it and moving furniture in? Do you throw away their family photo albums and tell them they have to go to bed at an earlier time or play their music at a lower volume?
No, of course not. You get to know each other, decide if you get along, and, once your host has decided you can stay, you ask politely if there is space to put your stuff. So why do you think you can move into someone else’s neighborhood and start making it over as your own? Why do you think you can move into someone’s ancestral land and start taking it over, evicting them from their homes and pushing out their businesses?
In slightly less philosophical more concrete terms NPR did a story on a new type of 15-year mortgage being piloted in some communities, specifically designed to help home-buyers be at less risk of foreclosure and “build wealth” (equity) in their home faster.
It’s called the Wealth Building Home Loan because it helps people own more of their house more quickly. A pilot project is already up and running to offer this new type of affordable 15-year loan to thousands of homeowners.
Setting aside the (for Boston) utterly laughable example of a $100,000 home with a monthly mortgage payment of $453 (less than 1/3 of our monthly rent payments), this is an interesting new innovation that I’ll be keeping an eye on.
It’s been brought to my attention since reading A People’s History of the New Boston that Vogel is hardly the only one to read queer communities as harbingers of gentrification — as the always-insightful Amanda Hess articulates in a 2011 post at TBD, “Gay Bars, Gentrification, and Homophobia“:
LGBT establishments have a complex history with the gentrification of cities. At a glance: In response to discriminatory zoning laws and social ostracization, gay bars traditionally set up shop in underdeveloped urban areas with lower rents and looser regulations. Around these establishments, LGBT neighborhoods formed, later attracting more well-to-do members of the community—and eventually, more affluent straights, too. The gentrification of a gay village signaled a certain mainstream social acceptance of gays—but it also meant pushing less affluent members of the LGBT community back on the social fringes. Straight gentrifiers of gay villages may be willing to tolerate wealthy gay yuppies, but they can also facilitate the marginalization of others in the LGBT community.
Something I’ll be thinking about more as I move forward with reading, thinking, and doing here in our new neighborhood of Jamaica Plain — a community experiencing the forces of gentrification after both resource neglect and a period in which it was known for its artsy/lesbian population.
Oh, and if you want to know the depths of my nerdiness, I find myself enthusiastically reading Master’s theses in urban studies at 11pm. Titles such as “Neighborhood Stabilization in Jamaica Plain: Patterns, Responses and Prospects” (MIT, 1994), and “Producing Space: Block-By-Block Change in a Gentrifying Neighborhood” (UMass Boston, 2013). Or you could check out Alan Erhenhalt’s The Great Inversion and the Future of American Cities (2012).