Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Evils of Gentrification: A Personal Perspective

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.


Oh, reader. It was all I could do to just park my car and hoof it to the rear of my dwelling without blowing my stack. These spoiled yuppies wanted a brand new house, and they bought one with no yard, and now they are warning me that their tot is playing near the street?

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.


anne marie in philly said...

THEY should be watching out for their stupid bratley, NOT YOU!


CraveCute said...

It's happening in our suburban neighborhoods too. Large wooded double lots are being split so that two and three houses can fit in that same area. Existing long-time homeowners now have to deal with the increased activity, traffic etc. All because of greed!

Chas Clifton said...

You could do something creative with the little green guy, I bet.


that is plum sad.

Laura said...

People are just fucking selfish stupid bastards.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

This is going on here in Edmonton too. When the redevelopment occurs in poorer, run-down neighbourhoods, they call it "gentrification." When the redevelopment occurs in richer, desirable neighbourhoods, they call it "infill." And it's basically as you describe. Young professionals with families don't want to live in small, older homes in those nice areas, so they bulldoze the house, build a huge McMansion on the lot or, if it's a large corner lot, a developer will bulldoze and build a huge duplex. That's how things roll nowadays.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

The City encourages gentrification and infill because it brings more people in to live in the city's centre, rather than in the ever-expanding-outward suburbs which eat up valuable farm land as development occurs. More people and kids in central areas help keep those older neighbourhood schools viable so they need not be closed and the kids bused to other schools. So there are some advantages from an urban planning point of view.

Janie Junebug said...

Ours is a historic neighborhood with a neighborhood association that keeps a pretty tight leash on change. I hope we continue the way we are.


Jono said...

I've seen this happen when I visit the Big City. I just don't get it. When is it enough? Do they do it just to display their wealth or are they deranged? It's only been a hundred years since indoor plumbing was considered a luxury.

Kim Cooper said...

Over-population is behind it. Too many people.
We should encourage making it denser in urban settings so that it won't get denser farther out.