3 minute read

Last Friday, I posted a rather tongue-and-cheek article concerning gentrification. The article made light of the rather uniform transitions that are actually happening in neighborhoods that undergo gentrification. It is called revitalization and people think these communities are taking on a new, unique feel. In reality, many are just becoming the same kind of different, looking different than they did before but all conforming to new consumer tastes.The article also talked about the real issue of displacement that plagues gentrification. It is a complex issue with good and bad angles.

Today, it just so happens that I found another article that highlights this issue. It comes by way of Gillian White at The Atlantic and is titled, “The Downside of Durham’s Rebirth.” The article is a rather lengthy, but very good, feature on the complex issues surrounding Durham’s gentrification. I have featured articles about Durham recently concerning urbanization. Durham is in one sense booming and successful, but looking from another angle, the situation is getting rather bleak as the original residents are getting pushed out of their own community.

Here are some notables I pulled out of the article.

Pricing out your own residents.

The primary focus of the article is the displacement of the original residents by escalating prices. White claims, “Durham’s affordability may soon be a thing of the past, just like the city’s status as a working-class, tobacco-manufacturing town… But now that the surrounding neighborhoods—traditionally black and working-class—are becoming whiter, richer, and pricier, the changes are resulting in real harm to long-time residents.”

Of course, this causes a host of issues for any gentrifying city. As economic rebound comes to one of these areas, the city sees great benefit. However, that benefit is often not passed on to its original residents, as they wind up having to leave because of it. One of the people White interviews, a minister and community organizer, tells the story of an elderly man who rented an apartment in his neighborhood for 30 years for $275 a month, until his landlord forced him out for renovations. Upon asking if he could return, the landlord told him he could if he would pay the new price of $800 a month. Of course, he had to move.

White continues, “Tensions have risen… as white neighbors have moved in and policing in the area has increased; the young black and Latino men say they’re being harassed and white residents say they don’t always feel safe.” And this just makes sense. As the demographic of the city shifts, two very different groups will occupy the same space. Negative stereotypes will cause the new group to fear the old, and the old group will see the new as land-grabbers.

White sums up her thoughts, “A big part of Durham’s problem is that though this wave of revitalization, which started downtown and is trickling outward, was sought after and carefully planned, it seems that no one thought about or planned for the very real dangers that inviting an influx of investment and revitalization to the area might bring.”

Two sides of the coin.

The article also does a good job showcasing both sides of the story. It is more complex than labeling gentrification as good or bad. White interviews one of these new landlords, ““I know it’s easy to harpoon gentrification as a bad thing, but taking houses away from slumlords and renting them out does a lot of good. Yes, it’s displacing people of very low incomes, that’s a problem. But it also means less abandoned buildings and overall blight.” Gentrification brings a much-needed facelift to some neighborhoods. It can clean up crime and it does handle issues with slumlords who charge low rent but do nothing to take care of their tenants.

However, the way it cleans up neighborhoods is often by replacing residents. White also interviewed a longtime minister and resident of one of these Durham neighborhoods, “To pay $800 or $900 down here is a significant savings for a grad student, but the people who had been paying $300 a month are getting pushed out.” In other words, gentrification may revitalize the real estate, but it does not rehabilitate the residents. Instead, it often replaces them with the people that can afford its prices.

Grab an extra cup of coffee and sit down to read the full article. It is really insightful for those seeking to minister in this kind of context. You can get to the article here:

The Downside of Durham’s Rebirth


Photo by Boston Public Library (Greetings from Durham, N.C.) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons