Gentrification is Warfare…and definitely racist (part 1)

Black folk are being displaced all over America with barely a whimper…

Those were the good old days. Shows like Happy Days (74) and Laverne & Shirley (76) celebrated the 1950s. American Graffiti (73) also revisited the same era.

Images of malls and soda shops, kids piling into telephone booths, bobby sockers, rolled up jeans, and cigarettes curled up in white t-shirt sleeves are familiar to most people who grew up in a time where Americans were nostalgic for the past.

But which Americans? For most of my adult life, I’ve been disgusted, even ashamed to claim myself as an American. Travel is the great equalizer though, and when you’re in a foreign country, they will let you know — you’re American.

Sadly for the Black man and woman, there is no time in our sojourn in America that we can be justifiably nostalgic of. We were still being lynched in those “good old days.” We were still under Jim Crow in those “good old days.” And most importantly for this writing, “white flight” was the trend of the day as whites bolted out of the city, while keeping Blacks out of those suburbs.

The “good old days.”

We’re going to go into that here — a time when race was in the forefront — and we’re also going to go into the modern times; the gentrification times, where we all pretend as if race isn’t a factor…but as sure as the Fonz is cool, it is.

I’m amazed that there’s not more outrage.

Montbello High School is closed. When I was shipped off to high school in the rough and tumble days of integration, I went to a school on the southern most part of Denver, Thomas Jefferson — it was uber white. Montbello, on the other hand, was OD Black.

Montbello, one of the largest communities in Denver, began in September of 1965 with the annexing of 2,609 acres of land. It was supposed to be an improvement on the growing suburb craze.

It was also my introduction to Denver and even from my earliest memory, it was Black. According to modern demographics, it’s more than 40% Black in a city where we make up less than 2% of the population.

We called it ‘Montghetto,’ with just a touch of envy. Montbello wasn’t a neighborhood of apartments or duplexes like where I lived, it was a neighborhood of homes, lawns, cul-de-sacs. People moved UP when they moved to Montbello.

20 years after I graduated from High School, Montbello was known for crime and gangs, and in 2011 the CDC…yes, the Center for Disease Control began a $6.5 million dollar study on “adolescent violence and test prevention strategies.” By 2014, the High School that served this neighborhood of 9,000 housing units and 30,000 residents would be closing.

They’re closing a High School…in an area that has earned a CDC Study.

The CDC is involved because they are approaching the situation as a problem from an epidemiological standpoint. Epidemiology is where someone goes and finds the origin of a disease so that they can stop that from spreading anymore. Then they create systems to contain whatever else is left of the disease. However, even though it’s an epidemiological effort, they are not looking for the source of the disease and cutting it off. Rather, they are isolating parts of the disease and containing it. Isma’il Latif

There are hundreds of cities that are gentrifying (Denver is actually in the top 10 at #7, Portland, Oregon is numero uno) the model is the same everywhere, but I will strictly talk about Denver…and …Atlanta (#5)…and St. Louis…and New Orleans.

We’ll start with Atlanta.

The demolished Mt. Vernon Baptist Church , Atlanta, GA

Atlanta is Black as hell. Hotlanta. Home of the Atlanta University Center, Magic City, the former Freak Nik. Black. But the writing is on the wall. Like Washington DC which was formally known as Chocolate City, the changes taking place in Atlanta are happening in two places — in the ‘exburbs’ and the city proper.

Although I lived in Atlanta and was witness to the building of the Georgia Dome and the destruction all over the city that took place for the 1996 Olympic Village, the story dates back five years before I was born.

Atlanta has struggled since the days of the Civil War to make itself a cosmopolitan city again. Major General William Sherman laid waste to Atlanta on his ‘March to The Sea,’ setting the city ablaze.

The aftermath of Sherman’s March to The Sea.

Sherman’s name is still a curse word to many o’ white Atlantans as the history of its destruction has been past down from generation to generation. Unlike cities like Savannah, a city that’s three hours southeast, Atlanta has few remnants of it’s old, antebellum charm.

Cut to, 1967, Mayor Ivan Allen Jr, swiped the Braves from Milwaukee, bringing along with them the star, Hank Aaron and built a $18 million dollar stadium for the team. Thing is, to build that stadium, as always, in true Robert Moses form, a Black neighborhood had to suffer.

Construction of the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium wiped out an entire neighborhood that was adjacent to Mechanicsville, plus part of the still-existing Summerhill neighborhood. The simultaneous construction of the interstate displaced thousands more families from these predominantly Black neighborhoods south of downtown. Anna Simonton

Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium displaced 75 businesses and over 948 families.

Go around these neighborhoods when it’s not game day…it’s a veritable ghost town. Actually, don’t go around these neighborhoods if it’s not game day because, surprisingly (not) some of the worst areas of the city can be found blocks away from the Georgia Dome. Barely a mile away is the heroin capital of Atlanta — The Bluff. But what is expected to become of a neighborhood when you destroy all of the viable businesses and offer little to no employment?

The extremely wealthy Atlantans never see this side of the city anyways. As they moved further out, beyond the suburbs, deep into Cobb County they lobbied to have the Braves come to them. And the Braves will now play (at SunTrust Park)…ten miles away from the closest train station, and those extremely wealthy Atlantans will no longer have to come into the city for anything.

SunTrust Park, Cobb County, GA

Unlike Turner Field, as you can see in the above rendering, SunTrust Park will be a multi-use park, which will include retail shops, restaurants, a hotel, an entertainment venue and residential units. Coupled with the Comcast proposed, $100 million investment that will have a multi-terabit network, it will make SunTrust Park and the surrounding community the most connected ballpark and mixed-use development in the United States. The area will benefit and be a destination beyond the games.

Many Blacks are moving away from the downtown/midtown area as well. Not necessarily by choice either, they’re priced out. While one can get a house in Douglas County for under $200,000, homes in choice areas like Ansley Park START in the $700,000 range. And chasing the American dream works a bit different for the Black man and woman. With a median income barely half of, say a Cobb County, the tax base yields very little leverage when it comes to decisions being made in their community.

Fully 88 percent of Atlanta’s poor live in the suburbs, according to Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution. Between 2000 and 2011, Atlanta’s suburban poor population grew by 159 percent, while the city’s poor population remained essentially flat.

Meanwhile, back in town, the Georgia Dome built in 1992 ain’t new enough. Guess a shelf life of 2o years is all they can take. Like Turner Field, which was built in 1997, the Dome will soon be razed and replaced by a new stadium. This newer stadium has already swallowed up two historic Black churches: Mount Vernon Baptist Church, which had been in it’s current location since 1951, took the buyout for $14 million, and Friendship Baptist Church, the 153 year old church where Spelman College was founded, felt that their legacy was worth $19.5 million.

Either you sell or you get hit with one of the Atomic Bombs of gentrification, eminent domain. All you can do then is what Larry Zaglin (whom they disparagingly call a ‘parking lot owner’) did, negotiate for more money. Traditions are scrapped and the history of a place discarded, all in the name of progress…and the all mighty dollar.

But who benefits?

the leveled Black Community that made way for the St. Louis Arch

Drive west from the East Coast and you’ll feel a bit of relief when you see that Arch breaking it’s way through the skyline. Your W stations will now be K stations, you’re crossing the Mississippi. And that’s what the Arch is supposed to stand for, sadly though — it’s anything but.

What I didn’t know (and I’m sure that most people don’t know) is that there once was a thriving Black community where the very beautiful, iconic, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial park is today.

The city cleared 37 blocks and then waited decades to move forward with the development of the land. Highways paved the way.

A close study of the amazing feat that is the highway system will undoubtedly reveal a racist system that was very inline with the sentiments of the “good old days.” From the Bronx to Atlanta, and in this case, St. Louis, where parks and stadiums started, the highway system puncuated the death blow to once tight knit Black communities.

All of this construction pushed Blacks north. Blacks moved north. And for awhile, neighborhoods like The Ville (home of Homer G. Phillips hospital, a prominent Black hospital) thrived. Once the laws of Jim Crow were fought back and Black folk could rub shoulders with white people, they abandoned all those things moving to areas they once couldn’t move to. Which made whites, beginning in the mid-50s, leave the city altogether — they moved to cities like Venita Terrace; they moved to cities like Ferguson.

And Blacks could not follow, the zoning laws and restrictions made sure of that.

Like most other cities, 20 years ago, that trend began to reverse. Whites moved back into the city. And, in St. Louis, the government worked to bring immigrants in to boost the population (and the amount of taxes it collects)…most of these people moved into the central city…very few moved to the Northern regions where many Blacks still reside.

Fleeing crime-ridden Northern St. Louis, Blacks began moving into those cities that they once were zoned out of. As an illustration, Ferguson, once predominately white with only 25.1 percent of Black folk in 1990, by the time 2010 roles around, the city is 67.4 percent Black….and growing.

But it’s not the Ferguson that Black folks envisioned moving into. With the tax base gone, the infrastructure suffers; schools loose funding, things as regular as trash pick-up become a hassle, and all that’s left, funding wise, is the medical field…and law enforcement.

Like many other poor suburbs, Ferguson is simply too small and too poor to address the underlying racial and economic disparities that are fueling the current protests. It lacks good public transportation to areas with good jobs, isolating it from economic opportunity. In 2012, more than one in four residents of Ferguson were below the poverty level, more than twice St. Louis County’s poverty rate. In some Ferguson census tracts the poverty rate is as high as 33 percent. Peter Dreier and Todd Swanstrom

The 2013 St. Louis Cardinals team was a thing of beauty. Despite losing the World Series to the Boston Red Sox (whom I despise), the Cardinals decimated a 60 year old hitting efficiency with runners in scoring position record (once held by the 1950 Red Sox at .312) with an astounding .330 average. For those of you who do not follow baseball, of the 1,355 times they had someone on base, they scored 447 of them. And most importantly to the city, the World Series brought $23.7 million dollars into the economy.

The people of North St. Louis and the surrounding suburbs didn’t get any of that money.

Harmony Oaks: Magnolia no mo

Maybe it’s not a conspiracy but it’s surely unfolding like one. When asked why so many native New Orleans citizens believed the government blew the levees, Alvin Pouissant, speaking from the ivory towers of Harvard, said that such conspiracies are the way for the powerless to deal with loss. I’m sure many so-called experts would back that. But looking at what has happened since really brings that into question — evidence be damned.

Rapper Jay Electronica grew up in the Magnolia Projects, in New Orleans’ historic Third Ward. As Katrina approached, his family escaped to Atlanta. When residents were allowed back in, armed with a camera, Mr. Electronica took pictures of the abandoned housing projects he once called home. Contrary to popular belief, he could find very little damage. (I pray he still has those photos).

Nonetheless, the projects were slated to be razed, and were torn down in 2008. By 2010, Harmony Oaks was built (by controversial McCormack Baron Salazar) and began taking in occupants. The Magnolia Projects had 1,400 apartment units. Harmony Oaks only has 460. Yet, despite the sharp decrease in available units, the Oaks supporters boast that 2/3 of the mixed-income homes are affordable….that only leaves 307 affordable homes. What about the other 1,093 residents?

Why, they move to the suburbs, of course, with areas like St. Bernard’s Parish having a 89% increase in Black folk since 2000. You read that right: 89% increase.

(Since 2000) every single tract between Magazine and Tchoupitoulas — including Riverside, Irish Channel and the Lower Garden District riverfront — has seen increased white and decreased black populations, some of them dramatic. Richard Campanella

Following the pattern of the above examples, housing in New Orleans proper is becoming increasingly expensive and the unemployment rate of young Black men resides in the 50th percentile…not to mention that Louisiana still locks up more of its citizens than any other state in the U.S. Guess who the majority of those locked up are?

Denver’s 2012 Redistricted Map

We already looked at living in Montbello as being isolated. Unlike the majority of the city, you weren’t walking there. Nor could you hop on your bike and have a casual ride there. Despite being relatively close, no roads or sidewalks or paths gave you a straight shot. Your best bet was the highway.

Now, the isolation is real.

After an eight month-long debate to redistrict the ever-growing city, the rezoning efforts left Montbello in a bit of a quagmire.

They took a part of Montbello and incorporated that into District 8. Alright, when they drew the line, (it) basically stops at Crown Boulevard; takes that first row of townhomes and the like and it brings it all west towards Peoria into District 8. Now within that District, the police station technically belongs to District 8. Montbello no longer, technically, has a police station, the same thing with the medical facility. That now, also is a part of District 8. The problem is, is that goes into the bastardization of Montbello on a whole. Pastor Terrence “Big T” Hughes.

What does this have to do with race?

I know the question oh so well.

Those Clintons are (like all politicians) some slicksters. While Black folk were singing along, “Don’t Stop, Thinking About Tomorrow,” Bill was thinking about hitting people with the 1994 “three strikes you’re out” policy, which he recently admitted in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour lead to over-incarceration (of Black people — the unsaid but well known fact). But also in 1994, Bill Clinton enacted the Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing project.

The results of the experiment have bounced back and forth between effective and failure with Sociologist posting countless papers on the program. The last paper, by Jens Ludwig in 2014, couldn’t find any evidence that the control group experienced any change, so in the proper see-saw manner that I just mentioned, the most recent paper by Raj Chetty asserts:

The results of this study demonstrate that offering low-income families housing vouchers and assistance in moving to lower-poverty neighborhoods has substantial benefits for the families themselves and for taxpayers.

But as we just demonstrated, the suburbs are the new low-poverty neighborhoods, many, like Montbello, are veritable deserts. Often times, these suburbs only have one grocery store where one has to check the dates for freshness in the way common to someone shopping at a corner store bodega.

These suburbs were hit the hardest by the subprime loan crisis — translation: Blacks were hit the hardest, with 8% of all homeowners having their homes foreclosed on. Families who once past homes down from generation to generation, took the buy out and moved to the outer reaches of the city settling into homes that were advertised as “built to your specification” only to find that these homes were shabbily built, cheap, and thrown together quickly.

“Billions and billions of dollars were stripped away from a community that already had lower levels of wealth than white communities,” said Debbie Bocian, senior researcher at the Center for Responsible Lending, which estimates blacks will lose $194 billion in wealth through 2012 due to the mortgage meltdown. “It exacerbates all the socio-economic divides. The consequences are intergenerational.”

Meanwhile, whites returned to the city and scooped up all of the “inner-city” property on the cheap. Homes that we thought we were getting a deal for selling at $170,000, now snag a fetching $450,000 to a $1,000,000.

Rendering of the Uline Theater soon to be REI

And to the victors go the spoils. Whether it’s witnessing juice bars packed with white folk on 125th street, seeing the gutted Uline Theater (destined to be an REI store) in Washington D.C., or strolling past dog parks in Denver’s historic Five Points, I can’t help but to wonder, “where will we go?”

There’s no getting away from it; Gentrification is taking place from Houston to Portland, displacing hundreds of thousands of people who can no longer afford to live in the place that they were once relegated to, a place they once called home. And once they move to the only area they can afford, the reverse of white flight has taken place. The only difference being that many of these suburbs are devoid of any amenities. And Black people are often underrepresented in these suburbs, with the majority of the city council and school board positions being held by whites.

Worst off, these neighborhoods often have understaffed police departments which are majority white that have had a penchant for pulling the trigger on us without just cause.

The initial cause for Blacks being confined to the ghetto was the racist Jim Crow laws. Blacks were unable to move out of the failing cities after “white flight” because of racist zoning laws and policies. When Blacks were finally coaxed into moving to the suburbs, they were hunted down by predatory lenders who sold them on the idea of the now infamous subprime loan…also racist. So why is it so hard for our people to see the racist hand in gentrification?

If it reads like it’s bleak, it’s because it is. Gentrification is indeed warfare. The signs that an all-out assault is taking place on Black people are there, but like many of the Eastern European countries in the 1930s, we still believe that we’re in peace time. Let’s just hope that more of us don’t have to die before we realize we are not. We are at war.

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