3 minute read

This morning while I was doing some research, I stumbled across a little piece of tongue-and-cheek blog fodder from the Houstonia titled, The Houstonia Step-By-Step Guide to Gentrification. It’s pretty funny and does a great job tracking the development of a trendy, chic neighborhood. Of course, the timeline they develop is oozing with irony and has a dash of humor.

You should really click over and read that article… because the rest of what I say is not going to make sense otherwise.

The article, perhaps unwittingly, does a great job pointing out a couple of the issues surrounding gentrification. For the church planter (and definitely the church revitalizer), there are some cues to pick up out of this article.

The same kind of different.

Despite the hipster push toward individuality and uniqueness, gentrifying neighborhoods have a whole lot in common. In fact, it stretches the term to call the revitalization happening in urban centers unique. They may begin to look different than they did, but they are, in surprising fashion, turning into the same kind of commercialized enclaves as other gentrifying areas. I am not crying foul on the whole endeavor here, just pointing out that this is occurring in a lot of places. What we are really seeing is a change in consumer preferences and tastes rather than a true individuality. This is important for local churches to understand, as it affects the way you can minister in these neighborhoods.

For every new building an old one dies.

This really gets at the rub of gentrification. Those who are moving into the area because of gentrification look around and see revitalization. However, the families who have watched their children grow up on those streets are watching one familiar location after another disappear. That is, if they are able to stay around at all. Gentrification usually inflates the real estate to the point that original residents are forced out. It can be a source of economic displacement. This causes really high tensions, and I am not so certain the folk moving into the neighborhood usually realize that.

When living in DC doing urban research, I ran into this exact phenomenon. It just so happened that my house was on the dividing line between an historic neighborhood and a rapidly gentrifying quarter of the city. Housing projects were on the street to the north of my house and large cranes were putting up luxury apartments on the street to the south. It was somewhat surreal. As I talked to the new residents in the apartments to the south, they were excited about how much better the city was becoming. In their eyes, there were no down sides to what they were calling revitalization. The people to the north of me had a completely different view. They were rather bitter at the land grabbers moving in a block over. In fact, they were watching old landmarks of their childhood get bull-dozed in order to put in a Chipotle. It was a tension that only one side even knew existed.

That makes church planting and revitalization in these areas tough. A new church planter who is armed with ideals and the romanticized vision of bringing everyone together in his neighborhood sees the census data on one of these neighborhoods and realizes there is a lot of diversity. In his mind, he thinks it is an eclectic mix. What he doesn’t realize is that the data is really telling the story of two completely different communities that happen to exist in the same space, one furious at the other’s presence and one completely oblivious to some of the consequences of that presence.


Photo by Mike Mozart, under Creative Commons.