Monday, October 20, 2008


Gentrification is a concept I'm only recently becoming cognizant of. I'd heard it bandied about of course, but didn't have a very good grasp of what it meant. For people in the same boat, Wikipedia says; "Gentrification, or urban gentrification, is the change in an urban area associated with the movement of more affluent individuals into a lower-class area. The area experiences demographic shifts, including an increase in the median income, a decline in proportion of racial minorities, and a reduction in household size. More households with higher incomes result in increased real estate values with higher associated rent, home prices, and property taxes."

In my class Lesbian, Queer and Transgender Identities, we've talked to some extent about this issue as it applies to San Francisco, which has been eye opening for me. So many things I never knew! But two recent posts have also got me thinking on this topic, what my role in gentrification as half of a white couple living in a city often vilified (but we assure my mom "in a nice area") for it's high crime rates is, and very basically, "what it all means." For me, for my neighbors, for my community.

I'll be honest, the area of Oakland I live in IS a "nice" area. We picked it to look at because of low crime rates around, and the affordability, though it's one of the more expensive neighborhoods. There is a pretty broad mix of black, white and asian folks who live here, and I don't know if I'm directly contributing to gentrification in the classic sense of moving into a traditionally black neighborhood. But I do know some things about the broader area.

I know San Francisco, Berkeley, the North bay where I grew up and most everywhere in the bay area besides Oakland is significantly if not drastically higher priced than our modest space (450 sq ft is pretty modest, yes?). I also know that we are looking at "moving up" to one of the other, even higher priced, neighborhoods in the coming future. On the other hand I also know we may not be able to, because of money constraints. And yet, that's a bit of a cop out, because our constraints are based on the fact that I'm not working (a privilege we've not been able to ever afford before).

This ability to (semi)freely move, as Katie talks about in her post, is inofitself a privilege. I've known that for some time. Is it shared by those who live in parts of Oakland we would not consider habitating? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say, um, no. And like her, I make a point to buy locally, to frequent the establishments in my area, to try and buy from and feed our neighborhood economy as much as possible.

But I also see more and more exactly what Black Amazon talks about in her post. "To here it described as an up and coming neighborhood , this place full of lack professionals, to hear it described as safer when crime was high only during teh period o f"benign" neglect and crack and really no more high than any other NYC area.

And as you hear it realize it is code for " white folks are willing to live here" . it doesn't talk about landlords who don't live here being unwilling to sell to the black middle class it doesn't talk about black families wanting to improve their homes being unable to even get the Landmarks service on the phone."

I see this at work all over the bay area. I see it in the real estate advertising for the "nice" Oakland neighborhoods. And I wonder just what the crime situation is here, about the link between Oakland being a historically black city, and it's vilification in popular talk and media. How bad is it really? I mean, we know it's bad. But don't people also get mugged in San Francisco? And isn't Oakland so fucking huge sq mileage-wise that it would be perhaps inevitable for rates to be higher?

I don't know the answers to these questions, and I am not able to write anything as eloquent and heart wrenching as either Katie or BA on the topic. But I'm thinking about these things as we put down some roots, as I notice that I feel more at home here than in either SF or Berkeley, as I notice the attitudes of people around me and the poverty and crime and the things that make up life here. And as I think about this process, this economic process fueled by institutions (racism), and I wonder what the answer is...and I'm glad Oaktown has at least tried I think, to keep people in their homes, through being one of the few rent controlled cities in the state (the only I've ever come across anyway).


  1. I am watching this slowly happen in the neighborhood that I reside in. Already there is a difference in the schooling. All the English speaking parents that own their own homes are sending their children to the french system rather than our local neighborhood school. Simply by asking a child where they go to school you can get an understanding of the families resources.
    My children attend the French schools because we can afford to send them. The kids that go to the neighborhood school are looked down upon. This is happening more and more as people move into the neighbourhood. At first all you heard was that these homes were affordable and now we are seeing artist galleries open and little cafes. It is changing slowly to reflect the people that are living here. While I must admit I am glad to see my property value go up, I am saddened to see one of the last affordable areas of the city become more expensive. I wonder where people are going to live as the rents raise. Niagara Falls is a small town and therefore there are not a lot of resources for the poor and indigent. People claim that this is progress, but if progress means that more people are hungry and homeless perhaps we need to change the definition.

  2. I agree. It seems to me to be one of these situations where "with great power comes great responsibility". As in, as the affluence of our area goes up we who are benefiting from it have to work harder to make sure the underprivileged in our communities are still ok. Of course that's massively easier said than done, especially in huge communities like mine and yours and Katie's and BA's... In huge countries on top of that. :\


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