To many, the word “gentrification” sounds like the sentencing of the death penalty and to others gentrification is the ultimate solution to regain balance to disenfranchised cities.To be sure, what exactly is gentrification? Is it simply fancying up a neighborhood that brings in new residents and buildings or is it the displacement of current residents due to the influx of the new fancy residents and businesses? So, let’s clear the air.
The goal for development without displacement is often referred to as “New Urbanism.” New Urbanism is an urban design movement which promotes environmentally friendly habits by creating walkable neighborhoods containing a wide range of housing and job types. Sounds like a fancy way to say gentrification, with a twist. Let’s dig deeper.
To understand this idea more, think of the Mid City community. Is it a product of gentrification or New Urbanism?
Over 30 years ago Mid City was a disinvested community that lacked local businesses, adequate housing, and healthy living. Today the community has over 200 local businesses, a grocery store, over 5 neighborhood associations, and new affordable homes next to a thriving hospital. Not to mention our thriving Arts and Cultural District supporting local artists, creative placemaking, and community events.
How is this possible without leading to gentrification? There is a thin line between New Urbanism and gentrification. To make sure that line is not crossed we have to make sure the Three P’s are in order – Protect, Produce, and Preserve.
One of the biggest problems with gentrification is land. Developers and investors buy cheap land in struggling neighborhoods, and then move forward with profitable development. The key is for nonprofits and affordable housing developers to acquire a large amount of land early on to ensure there will always be space for working-families in their own community. One way to achieve this goal is through a Community Land Trust, which is land owned by the community that fights against rapid property value escalation.
MCRA’s Real Estate team buys blighted lots and abandoned homes before developers and build high quality affordable homes for families. To prevent displacement, our homes must maintain affordability for 15 years and then sold to another low-moderate-income family. The desire is to create a healthy mixed-income neighborhood that allows new higher income residents to spend their money locally to increase the value of the community, retain current residents, and provide a more equitable living experience for all.
Respecting the assets and amenities of the existing community is imperative. One asset that many developers forget is the current culture and voice the community has. Many opportunities are lost by not engaging, networking, and sharing the community values and traditions that makes the community living great. The problem is not the new coffee shop, but the people that silence and overshadow the current residents and businesses by blocking their seat at the decision-making table. There is power in diverse voices and having options for everyone.
By creating a mixed-income and mixed-culture neighborhood, all residents are able to live together and add their special gifts (money, thoughts, time, art) to strengthen their space. Our Mid City Arts and Cultural District not only increases property values, tourism, incomes, and employment opportunities, it also serves as a way to bring different groups to the same table to identify a shared interest and common struggles through the arts. This is key to ensuring development empowers the entire community. Art is one of many ways to have constructive cultural conversations that preserves and celebrates identities.
Gentrification can come in many hats. It’s the new upscale cupcake café, the coffee shop that replaced the mom and pop store, rental apartments being converted into condos and defunding public schools to open new charter schools ◔̯◔. While these are often ways new community members overshadowing previously working-class neighborhoods, the problem is not the new coffee shop, it’s the fact that they forced Mrs. Gina to close her Tea Café.
The arrival of new businesses into a revitalized area is inevitable. The idea of new residents, in a new flowing community is enticing for any business owner. However, by maintaining a mix-income community with a variety of amenities, businesses will be able to sustain a profit due to the large diversity of local customers.
As we can see it is not the new coffee shop’s fault. Gentrification usually happens in communities that have been affected by redlining, white flight, urban renewal, disinvestment, subprime lending, and the foreclosure crisis. However, New Urbanism may be the way to revitalize a community without displacement as long as we follow the “Three P’s” – Protect, Produce, Preserve. By ensuring these ideas New Urbanism will not be the glazed donut (quick fix) of gentrification but the whole bacon, egg, cheese breakfast sandwich on a French toast bagel.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic contact our Community Relations Team.
The mission of Mid City Redevelopment Alliance is to develop and promote the growth and renewal of Mid City Baton Rouge by attracting new and retaining current residents and businesses.