I shall not soon forget the June 29, 2005 Miami Herald article entitled 'Firms fear gentrification.' Lest we forget, Liberty City has survived riots, crime, and civic neglect. But now that Liberty City is slated for gentrification, good people are worried that the neighborhood will be forever ruined.
Notwithstanding Liberty City's notoriety, decent people both live and work in the neighborhood. A study found that 73 percent of 102 merchants fear the gentrification advanced by "buy cheap and sell high" persons of high station, who will no doubt raise rents and force them out of business and eventually out of the neighborhood.
A telling photograph by Patrick Farbell appeared above the article: Businessman Tyrone Greene, who now pays $1,284 a month in rent, is in the forefront addressing a crowd gathered outside Greene's Shoe Repair. Other small business owners stood behind him with signs; for example:
ESQUIRE BARBER SHOP
Tyrone's Greene's advertisement provided the backdrop of the scene:
WE SAVE YOUR SOLES
The scene was all too familiar. Even "good" middle-class neighborhoods are subjected to 'gentrification' nowadays. I was surprised that the Herald editors flouted the insulting term in the Herald. Politically correct editors prefer 'revitalization' nowadays. Of course the Herald is supposed to be a liberal paper, but when it comes to money and other forms of power, the newspaper elite would like to have more than their fair share, so much so that the perspicacious reader gets the impression that the rag is a wolf in sheep's clothing, and that the cultivation of white power extends even to black sheep.
Likewise for the New York Times, reputedly the liberal standard of our land: the prejudicial term "gentrification" appears time and time again, and despite the somewhat slight mention of its terrible consequences on the impoverished rank and file, many of whom prefer the New York Post if they live in the City, the overwhelming weight of authority comes down on the side of the relatively rich. For instance, a front page headline on March 11, 2006 reads: Gentrification Changing Face of Atlanta.
A critic said it was "as clear as the nose on your face" who was going to benefit the most from Atlanta's gentrification. It's White Flight in reverse. Mostly white professionals are flocking downtown because they are sick and tired of one of the worst commutes in the nation. They are not white supremicists; racism is not an issue: rising housing prices and property taxes is the factor running poor blacks out of the city. The percentage of non-Hispanic blacks has fallen from 66.8 percent of the population in 1990 to 54 percent in 2004.
Look at it this way: gentrification - the City of Atlanta also uses the insulting term - is a good thing. Never mind the color issue. "In 1990, the per capita income in the city of Atlanta was below that of the metropolitan areas as a whole, but in 2004 it was 28 percent higher, the largest such shift in the country, according to a University of Virginia urban planning study." No doubt urban planning is a lucrative profession for university graduates.
Shirley Franklin, Atlanta's mayor, said that many new developments have set aside areas for low-income or affordable housing. In any case, the city of Atlanta is viewed more favorably absent the blight. Some people might bemoan that the blight at least was the former resident's own blight; but David Bositis, a senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, remark, "Half the time you looked at what was there and you said, 'Who cares?'" Perhaps the same might be said of Liberia when it needs aid. Anyhow, a demographer at Brookings Institution by the name of William Frey said that Atanta's whitening is atypical.
Tell that to the residents of Overtown in Miami. Shortly after I arrived in Miami, I ventured into Overtown to respond to an advertisement for an apartment. I did not know Overtown was an historical black neighborhood, ripped apart a few years ago by an expressway, nor that it was a gentrification target of a group of a coalition of public and private developers dubbed "the Great White Sharks of Real Estate." I was attracted by the possibility of a mere $450 monthly rent.
As I strolled through Overtown, I noticed everyone was black. I stopped a black man and asked, "Where are the white people?" He replied, "You're the only one right now." He went on to fill me in on the history of the neighborhood, particularly the last phase of what he called "gentrification", and how it resulted in the Miami Arena boondoogle, exorbitant salaries for the professionals involved, and the diversion of funds earmarked for the poor into luxury projects elsewhere. That was business as usual, he said, and brought up what was apparently his pet peeve: the white conspiracy to corrupt the black race with dope, let them kill each other off or throw them in jail, and "gentrify" their neighborhoods.
Gentrification. An insult to those who know what it means. I heard 'gentrification pronounced for the first time in 1985, when I returned from Hawaii to the Upper West Side of Manhattan after an absence of nearly 15 years.
"Where are all the black people?" I asked from a barstool in my favorite pub of old: the original Tweed's; it had been renamed Allstate Cafe.
"The neighborhood's been gentrified," said an old drinking chum.
"Gentrified? What's that?"
"It's a new word, derived from 'gentry', meaning that white gentlemen managed to raise the rents and push blacks and Puerto Ricans out. Then Yuppies invaded the neighborhood. You know, Lincoln Center started it all years ago. Go look at Columbus Avenue now - you won't believe it, and Amsterdam Avenue too."
"I remember that Columbian joint on Columbus where we hung out in the Sixties. People raved about the nickel bags of Columbian weed sold there."
"It's gone, man, gone, gone, gone, those days are gone," my old friend lamented. "The Yuppies have taken over."
"No more salt 'n pepper bars, soul music, guys in floppy hats shooting up dope, and whores in the doors?" I asked.
"Some of the black guys, the radicals you knew, still come around. And there's a couple of almost segregated black bars. We don't have the mix we had then. We've been gentrified. Go walk around. You'll see the Yuppies lined up to drink Budweiser in the new restaurants; wherever there's a line, Yuppies have to get in it."
"Those Yuppies are the gentlemen of gentrification? No way, man. They're corporate turds!" I laughed at my wickedness.
"You've never heard of gentrification?"
"No. We don't have that in Hawaii that I know of."
"It's a Reagan thing. That (expleted deleted) really sold us out. Many people in our old crowd sold their souls to the devil, you know."
Sold their souls....
I remembered that conversation about gentrification after I saw a picture of Mr. Greene's sign about saving soles. I have not had a pair of shoes resoled for many years, as that is just not cost effective given my financial status and my white-bread consumer habits.
I know there really is not much different between white and black nowadays - we even have black WASPs in high offices - but a black man of my financial status is more inclined, I think, to buy a good pair of shoes and have them resoled when need be. And he might buy himself a good suit and a fine hat to top things off. If he lives in Liberty City, he might find this notice under his door:
Dear Blighted Occupant:
Your neighborhood is blighted with vulgar people and obsolete buildings. Your elected officials in partnership with big campaign contributors will make sure it is turned over to suitable developers for reconstruction because it is dirt cheap and can be flipped several times and sold at an appreciable price to the landed gentry, the genteel ruling class of gentlemen and gentlewomen who are entitled to the neighborhood by virtue of their noble financial station in the ownership society if not their good breeding. Regardless of your low financial status if not your bad breeding, you may, if you own landed property in your designated blighted zone, be paid blighted market value for your economically depreciated property when our domain is eminent. According to laws designed to protect your relatively small stake in the democratic republican society, owners and occupants may have an option to pay a profitable fair market value for the privilege of inhabiting the gentrified neighborhood.
Gentrification. What an insult. Maybe The Herald uses the word instead of 'revitalization' so readers will get the right idea about what is really going on in Miami and take action to throw the bums out of high offices. There is plenty of vitality in Liberty City to go around. And souls too.