Hello and welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," where today we really, really wish we could identify Snobville by its real name. Just afraid to do it, because there are two Anne Johnsons on my street, and I don't want either of us to get harassed by our fellow Snobvillains.
On the surface of things, gentrification of inner cities seems like a great idea. Developers buy old, rundown (or abandoned) row homes and refurbish or demolish them in favor of more expensive, upscale housing. This helps increase the tax base and builds "safer" neighborhoods.
Did you ever think about what happens to the people who were living in those rundown row homes? Where do they go? How much upheaval does their moving cause to their children and their local community? Because everyone has a local community. As one of my students said, "I've lived in Camden my whole life, and it's not scary to me at all."
There are a couple of new urban young adult novels about the toll gentrification takes on minority city dwellers. (This Side of Home, by Renee Watson, is one of them.) Anecdotally I can tell you that wealthy people who buy property in certain Philadelphia neighborhoods and seek to recreate their lifestyle among those with a different lifestyle sometimes face hostility. In my own household, I out-and-out cringed when the Spare's boyfriend said, "When I'm finished grad school I'll probably live in Camden. It's so much cheaper there." Will he be welcome? Seen as pulling the neighborhood up or splitting it apart? The answer varies. Nothing in this world is simple. I'm sure you've noticed.
Can I tell you a secret? Gentrification is not only happening in big cities. It's happening in suburban communities too. It's happening in Snobville. Right across the street from my house.
EXHIBIT A: "Before" View from My Front Door
This house was built in 1919. Behind it was a two-car garage with a one-bedroom apartment above the garage. Pretty, huh? I thought so too. But the people who lived there wanted to move away, and instead of waiting for a buyer interested in an older home, they sold to a developer. The developer used the fact that there were two residences on the property (the house, the apartment) to subdivide the lot for two full-sized luxury homes.
EXHIBIT B: Ominous Signs of Things To Come
Last fall, one day while I was at school, the house got demolished in less time than it took me to complete my teaching day. When I left in the morning it was there, and when I came home, it wasn't.
What about the trees? You ask. Eight of them are gone now. The tree cutters came on the weekend, so I couldn't avoid them. In fact, they came last Sunday for the largest tree (not pictured, off to the left).
Have you ever been wakened on a Sunday morning by an industrial-sized wood chipper and an army of chain saws? Mr. J called the police. It took the cop 40 minutes to come, during which the tree slaughter continued apace.
It took about six months for the first luxury house to be built. Asking price: $850,000 -- more than twice the value of my home across the street. The house was purchased before it was even finished.
As you might imagine from looking at the above photos, putting two houses on that property is a tight squeeze. Here's the first one, all finished.
EXHIBIT C: Four People, Four Bathrooms
The tree pictured has been cut down.
Notice the size of the house and how small the front yard is. This is the "smaller" of the two houses. The bigger one will be directly across the street from mine. If this one sold for $850 grand, I imagine the larger one will be offered at a million.
About four weeks ago, a young family moved into the house pictured above, Exhibit C. They are very young. Both are lawyers. They have a baby and a three-year-old. So basically the house has a bathroom for each inhabitant.
Probably next week, workers will begin digging the foundation for the next house. To make way for it, the largest tree on the lot had to be murdered.
EXHIBIT D: Candles on a Stump
Look at the size of that stump! This was a beautiful tree. They were cutting it down last Monday when I got home from work. (After the law chased them on Sunday.) I'm the one who put the candles there when the deed was done. The stump has since been ground out.
I don't know what you would call this, but I call it gentrification.
I've seen a lot of turnover on my block during the last 31 years. I've always been the first one to bring a casserole to the newbies and volunteer to help them with information on daycare and where to get the best birthday cake. But I cannot bring myself to welcome this new family. Their values cannot possibly be mine. Clearly they wanted a house where everything was brand spanking new, with four fucking bathrooms and no yard, front or back.
It's supremely disorienting to come home from work to the same house and the same street that you've lived on since 1987, and nothing is the same. The trees are gone. The old house is gone. In its place a butt-ugly monstrosity populated by a family that has a pathological aversion to smelling shit. And this is not Rip Van Winkle. I didn't go away for 25 years and come back to a changed world. I went to work in the morning and came back to a changed world at the end of my shift.
And then, the other day, as I drove home from work, I was greeted with one of these out in the street, in front of the new house.
EXHIBIT E: Really? REALLY?
I don't want to move. It takes me ten minutes to drive to work. The El Train to Philly is four blocks away. But I'm not comfortable. There are barbarians at the gate. They have created a wasteland and called it progress.