I want to address the Star Tribune’s recent editorial, “How gentrification can help north Mpls.” (Aug. 20).
Let me start by sharing my vision, as a resident of the Jordan neighborhood, for a healthy, vibrant north Minneapolis.
It would be a diverse community made up of families earning living wages with health insurance, affordable housing, schools that compensate for a history of disinvestment and institutional racism, infrastructure that isn’t crumbling, policing that doesn’t always have its finger on the trigger, businesses that serve the diversity of our residents, parks, music, health care centers, clean air, and good food.
I don’t know how the Star Tribune defines gentrification, but we know from examples across the country that gentrification is not just about building and selling higher-priced houses. Gentrification changes neighborhood character through changes in the housing market and residents’ economic status and demography. Gentrification leads to displacement, both physical and cultural, for an area’s long-term residents.
Here is how Lisa Bates, an African-American scholar in Portland, Ore. (a city that in some ways is the poster child for gentrification) defines it:
“Gentrification occurs when a neighborhood has attractive qualities — for example, location or historic architecture — but remains relatively low (economic) value. This disconnect between potential value and current value (called ‘the rent gap’) may occur due to historic disinvestment by public and private sectors. When the area becomes desirable to higher-income households and/or investors, there are changes in the housing market. As demand rises for the neighborhood, higher-income households are able to outbid low-income residents for housing, and new development and economic activity begins to cater to higher-income tastes. Lower-income households and/or households of color migrate out of the neighborhood and new in-migrants change the demographics of the neighborhood.”
For the Star Tribune, neighborhood revitalization in north Minneapolis appears to be an unmitigated positive change.
The twin questions of “who benefits” and “to what extent” are central to the North Side achieving equitable neighborhood change that doesn’t lead to the displacement and out-migration of people of color and low-income people.
Let me also note that gentrification is not just an income-based concept, but it is tied up with race, class and culture. The Star Tribune does a huge disservice to its readers when it writes on gentrification without ever even mentioning race.
I want to see my community grow and strengthen, but I want to see it done in a way that challenges the ideological and normative arguments about neighborhood revitalization that often posits proximity to whiteness as the solution. I want to see our city, our leaders and the Star Tribune move past simple explanations that ignore the complexities of neighborhood change.
I would like to see us work toward providing concrete opportunities for equality — work that is not motivated by the assumption that too many black and brown people living together is problematic and should be diluted by the importing of white people.
I like how Mary Patillo, an African-American scholar in Chicago, says: “Is there no such thing as happiness or material well-being or good health without white people?”
We need to be honest that the challenges and opportunities in north Minneapolis — or the lack of fairness, opportunity, justice, equality and recognition of shared humanity — reside in the fabric, the political, economic, and social institutions of our city and society, and that they cannot be solved by selling a few more higher-priced homes in north Minneapolis.
Making this acknowledgment could be a first step toward more productive, honest and complex conversations about race, place and poverty, one in which I hope the Star Tribune is interested in engaging its readers.
Neeraj Mehta is the director of community programs at the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota. He lives in the Jordan neighborhood of north Minneapolis. The views expressed here are solely his own.