Last week I posted a blog for Shelterforce here.
This started a conversation in my community on facebook here.
Here are some of my thoughts in response to this discussion:
Hey everyone. Thanks for the thoughtful conversation about what I wrote, and to Constance for posting a link here (and clueing me in!). I do have a few thoughts I wanted to share in response to some of what has already been shared.
• I totally know I’m not that great of a writer, so I am thankful for the “fun loving” critique of my prose. I especially appreciated the “word salad” comment. That was an awesome way to categorize that crappy sentence. Seriously.
• I also appreciated the comment that pointed out how I mention the demographics of north Minneapolis without mentioning white folks. I’m really glad that got pointed out. I use that sentence a lot and never really took stock of how that minimized a larger part of our population, one that I see as essential to the future well being of North Minneapolis as a multi-cultural community. And yes, as Deb pointed out, my wife is white, as are many of my friends that live in north Minneapolis. I like white people, I promise!
• I should also note I fully acknowledge how much where I live in Jordan has directly benefited from the work of long term residents like Deb and Denny Wagner and countless others who have helped strengthen the area in which I live. My neighborhood is better because of them.
So obviously an 800 word essay doesn’t really give you much space to say it all, so for the sake of those who don’t know me well I will say more here so you can get a deeper sense of where I am coming from. And thank you to friends on here who acknowledge I’m not that bad of a guy!
So I’m actually not opposed to the idea of ‘gentrification’. But I am always interested in having the conversation about who the ‘gentry’ is when gentrification happens. Like many of you I understand the need to strengthen the social and economic well being of individuals in north Minneapolis and for the community as a whole. The consequences of concentrated poverty are real and limit the opportunities for too many households through a variety of mechanisms. To improve the social and economic well being on the Northside it will take BOTH attracting new residents to North Minneapolis AND strengthening the well being of those who are already here.
Right or wrong, left or right, I am more of an advocate for the low-income communities in North Minneapolis than I am for the folks moving here from elsewhere. I guess I am unapologetic of that maybe similarly to the way many of you are unapologetic about using your voices to talk about the future of North Minneapolis in the ways you do.
I’m interested in working towards is a just city, or to use a phrase I heard elsewhere, “gentrification with justice”. Much of my views come out of a structural analysis, which grounds me in a history of failed policies (with intended and unintended consequences for people of color in America), systemic racism and the reality that we have patterns of opportunity and benefit in our cities and country that is still largely defined by race. The concept of structural racism may not immediately resonate with everyone in our diverse society but for me without fully accounting for the historical and ongoing ways in which racial dynamics produce inequities between whites and people of color, the social justice and antipoverty field risks pursuing strategies that are misguided, incomplete, or inappropriate to the challenge.
Another place that I come from is a general cynicism and disbelief in core national values in America of personal responsibility and individualism, meritocracy and equal opportunity, all of which too often we assume to be race neutral. While I do believe that personal responsibility and choice matter when it comes to issues of poverty and justice, too often I think we overemphasize that without taking into account the dynamics of the systemic and structural realities facing so many low income people. The tension for me is that these values often emphasize social and economic philosophies that are centered on the individual, while the structural racism framework illuminates the ways unequal group outcomes are reproduced.
We are good at critiquing the people who are experiencing poverty (and its’ effects) and spend much less time critiquing the system that can so often ensnare or even create the situations in the first place. We’re good at identifying WHO is more likely to experience poverty, but we do not consistently journey into looking at WHY poverty occurs in the first place.
We spend an unbalanced amount of time analyzing the individual attributes or demographic/social characteristics that might lead to an individual’s increased risk of impoverishment at the expense of looking at the system. We vilify those with less education, fewer job skills or health problems. We characterize entire groups of people like single mothers or people of color living in the inner city as at fault for their own poverty.
Our lack of collective response to the issues of poverty is often due to our seeing the problem as impacting a few select groups of people plagued with moral failing or individual inadequacies. We treasure notions of individual accomplishment, meritocracy and equal opportunity, believing that these values translate directly into the daily experience of all Americans. This overly individualistic approach to race and poverty fits nicely within our overall individualistic approach to many life issues. In our imperfect world with its many inequities, however, these values inevitably lead to different outcomes for different individuals. If life was a game, it could be said that we like to analyze the players (the winners and the losers) of the game, rather than the game itself. In my mind, we would do well to dedicate equal attention and resources on both sides of this problem.
I feel like my commitment to north Minneapolis is to try and fight the trend of what you see in other cities that some people call the “iron law of upgrading”, which essentially means that to improve a place means that one group of people have to move out so as to make way for the new people. I hope we can create a north Minneapolis that strengthens from the inside, ensuring the well-being of existing residents and strengthens from the outside, by attracting new residents to our community.
And I hope that new residents who move here come with a vision for community vitality that includes the people who already live here.
Can we revitalize north Minneapolis in a way that ensures that lower income residents and cultural communities who have lived here for decades, and who want to remain here, have a stake in the revitalization? Or will we become like too many other cities across the country where the standard definition of gentrification emerges and the revitalization and upgrading of traditionally poor areas by middle class people results in the displacement of lower income people?
I want to believe there is a better way for us in north Minneapolis.