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Allies Organizing Themselves Against Gentrification – 2010 USSF Workshop

June 23, 2010

I just finished participating in an amazing workshop with highly skilled organizers from New York City, known as Shift NYC. The workshop was designed primarily for people who could be allies with those who are most impacted/targeted by gentrification.

The session began with an exercise asking participants questions like – how long have you lived in the neighborhood you are in now? Have you ever found yourself intimidated by police coming into your neighborhood? Have people, homes or green space been displaced because of gentrification in your neighborhood? Are there organizations in your community working on anti-gentrification? Have you supported people who have been most impacted/targeted because of gentrification?

The session organizers then provided people with some working definitions of gentrification and acknowledged that it is a systemic problem and therefore it needs a response that calls for systemic change.

Gentrification – The phenomenon in which low-cost or “low-value” neighborhoods are developed and “improved” through purchase and renovation of land and businesses. This process transforms the neighborhood into a “high-value” neighborhood causing the displacement of long-term residents and businesses who are often low-income, poor, and people of color, to make way for the influx of middle class and upper class communities. Gentrification also involves and relies on the support of other institutions like police, education/schools, transportation, housing, etc to effectively pave the way for middle and upper class communities to move in.

The session organizers also pointed out that in addition to people being displaced by gentrification, cultures can be displaced as well as natural habitat by new structures or parking lots.

Shift NYC has worked with Right to the City, a national organization established in 2007 that focuses on urban justice and movement building. They session organizers stressed the importance of working with existing entities who do anti-gentrification work if they exist in your community.

The bulk of the session was devoted to small group discussion around what it means to be an ally with those that are negatively impacted/targeted by gentrification. They stressed the importance of accountability and self-interest for those who are allies, especially since being an ally inherently means we are acting from a position of privilege.

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”              Australian Aboriginal Group

The small group discussion had each group arguing different ways in which people of privilege can respond. Some people of privilege will say that there is nothing they can do and therefore do nothing. A second response is when individuals decide to do something to help and that might include signing petitions or sharing skills that those individuals have. A third response was for people or privilege to use that privilege, but from a distance – not developing a relationship with those most impacted/targeted by gentrification. The fourth position was a form of solidarity, where people of privilege develop relationships with those impacted/targeted, listen to the needs/desires of that community and then using the resources/power of our privilege to work with those most impacted/targeted by gentrification.

The session did not deal with specific tactics used in fighting gentrification, because the organizers felt that since every community where this occurs has unique dynamics that makes it difficult to provide a simple blueprint for this kind of work.

The session participants seem very animated and inspired by the information and activities. It was clear that people felt better equipped to move forward to fight gentrification having participated in this session.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate Wheeler permalink
    June 24, 2010 3:35 am

    Jeff, what general tactics did you learn about that you think could help in Grand Rapids–especially in the areas around the new developments/farmer’s market and the Wealthy corridor?

    Many thanks to you and Stelle for all these amazing reports.

  2. Jeff Smith permalink*
    June 24, 2010 12:10 pm

    Kate, that was the one area that I thought was lacking in the session – tactics. However, the framework and foundational information certainly inspired us to want to organize a training on combating gentrification in GR when we get back.

  3. Kate Wheeler permalink
    June 24, 2010 2:41 pm

    Sorry, shouldn’t have used the word “tactics” since you do say that right in your post! I was thinking more about how the idea of solidarity between the privileged and the targeted might be brought about, and what that might achieve for our area.

    My first, probably cynical thought, was that the most powerful of the privileged are actually going to financially benefit from gentrification. Even ICCF, the much-touted champions of those who need housing, are going to be pushing low-income people out of the area with their huge for-profit development that backs up against the proposed new farmers’ market. And their backers/partners will, too. The city officials can’t really be appealed to because they’ll gain in tax revenues.

    I know there must be a pathway around that rather large roadblock, but I can’t visualize it at the moment. I wondered what methods the NYC group were finding effective, if they spoke to that at all.

  4. June 24, 2010 5:00 pm

    Kate, they didn’t really give any specifics on tactics, since the session was addressing what role allies could play. However, some of us from the Bloom Collective are going to propose doing a workshop on anti-gentrification work. The Shift NYC folks did say they are happy to be an resource if we need ideas or feedback. We’ll let you know, as we certainly could some assistance on what kinds of actions to take in GR.

  5. Chad permalink
    September 23, 2010 10:17 am

    Thanks for writing this (as well as the other) piece on Gentrification in Grand Rapids. My journey started by looking up the word gentrification on wikipedia because it was used in a CNN article. As I read the entire thing, all I was thinking about was East Grand Rapids/Wealthy area. Therefor leading me to type “Grand Rapids Gentrification” into google and read these pieces.

    Have any of the larger news outlets spent any time on this thought? The concept of Gentrification seems to bring so many different topics to the table without having to (necessarily) label anyone as evil.

    Rahh I don’t know – interesting to read about – makes me want to move to the area before prices go up if I can still get in on the bohemian level — or is that wrong of me to say? Yeesh what a convoluted issue…

  6. September 23, 2010 1:50 pm

    Chad, there are no easy answers to the issue of gentrification, but we certainly need more discussion about it in order to challenge it when it develops.

    I can’t tell you where you should buy a house or not, but I think that we all need to think seriously about the implications of our actions and how it impacts communities.

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