Secret Diary of a Gentrifier

I think a lot about gentrification.

As Wikipedia describes it:
Gentrification is a shift in an urban community toward wealthier residents and/or businesses and increasing property values,[1] sometimes to the detriment[citation needed] of the poorer residents of the community.

I went with a Wikipedia definition on this one because there’s something intriguing about that little [citation needed] superscripted to the idea that gentrification hurts poor people.

Gentrification is a complex, and often controversial, issue.

Not so hot that the Wikipedia article is locked to prevent abuse or dramatization, but controversial enough that [citation needed] reads to me like a snarky, “Yeah? Prove it, buddy.”

Today, a community voices article from my hometown (holllla!) has been making it’s way around the web. 20 ways to not be a gentrifier in Oakland is a positive article articulating the ways that “outsiders” can move to a community without becoming gentrifiers.

“…it isn’t the mere act of moving into a neighborhood that makes you a gentrifier; it’s what you do once you get there,” the article opens before delving into tips for how to really appreciate a community for what it is and to understand and appreciate your neighbors.

And all of that is great. Whether in Oakland or beyond, new people moving into a community should be thinking in terms of community assets. They should see the strength and spirit of a place and understand why the locals scrawl Oakland Pride with spray paint under the overpasses.

And while its great to have such a welcoming attitude, I’m not sure I agree that “it isn’t the mere act of moving into a neighborhood that makes you a gentrifier.”

I was struck by that comment, particularly since this article is from Oakland.

I was born and raised in Oakland, CA. If I hadn’t stolen away to go to school in Massachusetts, I’d be a fifth generation Oaklander. My mother still lives there. My grandparents had a bakery – over on High Street, if I’m getting my history right.

I love the city. I know its sights, sounds, and smells. I’ve seen its dark corners and its bright days. I’ve talked smack about San Francisco and dominated anyone who ever breathed a word putting us down.

If I lived in Oakland, I would be a local. With deep roots and authentic passion. If I lived in Oakland, I’d do everything on the “20 ways” list, and possibly a few more. If I lived in Oakland, no one could call me a newcomer.

But if I lived in Oakland, I would be a gentrifier.

With my middle class and my East Coast airs.

I’d love the city and appreciate the city, and arguably I’d belong in the city. But I’d still add to rising rents and growing costs, eventually forcing my neighbors from their homes.

It’s okay that I’ve grown the way I have. And I hope it’s okay that I’ve found a new community to make my home. But the truth is I’m gentrifying Somerville just as I’d gentrify Oakland.

Living the American dream, perhaps, but at the cost of whom?


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