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(en) US, Calif. Berkeley, Slingshot - Gentrification

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(http://slingshot.tao.ca/displaybi.php?74002)
Date Wed, 20 Feb 2002 04:55:57 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

              Can freak bohemians avoid becoming
              pawns in the capitalist ethnic cleansing

              For five years most of my neighbors have been
              different than myself. I am white and from a
              middle class family; my neighbors have been
              latino or black and often working class. I am
              one small piece of the gentrification puzzle, one
              of the group of people the real estate analyzers
              call "risk oblivious", willing to live in an area with
              little capital invested in it and high crime rates,
              eventually making the area palatable for other
              generally white people with higher incomes. 

              Gentrification happens when a neighborhood
              becomes attractive to a wealthier class of
              people than the group of people currently living
              in the area. Current residents get displaced as
              landlords jack up rents to milk the wealthier
              class and developers build with only the newer,
              wealthier class in mind. The newer, generally
              white residents, who have more political power,
              eventually grow intolerant of the old
              neighborhood culture, often a code word for the
              poorer, often non-white people who originally
              lived in the area. 

              While nobody should have to live in a
              neighborhood riddled with street drugs and
              crime, making a neighborhood 'safe' usually
              involves making it unsafe for certain classes of
              people, who are forced out to other low-rent
              neighborhoods, to shelters, or to prison. The
              version of 'safety' used by city government often
              involves cultural fascism: criminalizing 'loud
              music' and certain types of street congregating
              because they are supposedly associated with
              street drug trade. The key is figuring out how to
              protect mixed neighborhoods that are safe, fun,
              and sustaining for all kinds of people including
              the original residents. 

              Because our culture is based on race as well as
              class privilege, gentrification often goes down
              along race as well as class lines. It is hard to
              imagine stopping gentrification and
              displacement without a working analysis of race
              privilege. A race-based analysis of gentrification
              is not a clever way to make the racist assertion
              that white people make a neighborhood 'better'
              because they are white, thus implying that white
              people are better than people of color. That's
              bullshit. The same privilege grid that lets white
              shoplifters skip past security guards and tracks
              white kids into the 'smart' classes follows white
              people when they move into not-white
              neighborhoods. The lecherous relationship
              between the (mostly) white counterculture and
              the (mostly) white hipster culture means that,
              when poor white counterculture people move
              into a neighborhood where rent is low,
              developers and landlords see hipsters with
              more money looming in the background and
              thus see a reason to invest in the neighborhood
              and raise rents. 

              For white people, a race based analysis should
              not be confused with a white guilt complex.
              White guilt is a luxurious excuse to do nothing
              because you assume that white people are "the
              problem" and therefore incapable of engaging
              in their own positive social action around race
              issues. Although whites act in the context of a
              twisted system of race privileged, they can take
              initiative and responsibility for their own actions
              and they way they, too, get used as pawns
              within a racist system. It is irresponsible to
              sidestep an analysis of race privilege because
              your politics are centered on an anarchic or
              democratic ideal free of race and class
              divisions. Actively dealing with the complex,
              sick reality of both race and class privilege is
              hard but essential in revolutionary work. 

              Like many people in the mainly-white activist
              community I'm part of, I am not entirely sure
              how to deal with my implicit role in gentrification.
              More than mere 
              thorns in the side of people inclined to
              traditional lives, I do think freak bohemians can
              have social and political purpose and contribute
              valuably to the glittering diversity that is an
              integral part of urban life. White bohemians are
              placed in a sticky position between our politics
              and ideals, and the reality of our unwilling but
              crucial role in promoting gentrification. Because
              of this role, we may face hostility from a number
              of fronts, including displaced tenants, the new
              yuppies, and the old property owners who
              appreciate the rise in property values that
              comes with gentrification. 

              How can gentrification be successfully fought?
              What is the place of white bohemians and
              activists in the struggle? Understanding the
              relation of property to capital is key; in this era
              of gentrification, city governments are working
              more closely than ever with development
              corporations. The battle can be fought both on
              the bureaucratic front, exposing
              developer-government connections, and by
              taking direct action against corporate
              developers. Tangible improvements to the
              neighborhood can be made directly by people
              in the neighborhood, although these
              improvements usually themselves encourage
              gentrification. In all these actions, it is important
              for newly-transplanted activists to respect the
              work of activists already in the area. 

              Real estate, the root of evil

              When a friend of mine was in prison in the
              1970's, his history teacher said that the history
              of the world revolved around real estate. The
              root cause of gentrification is real estate, the
              relationship between property and capital. With
              the exception of tenant protections like rent
              control and subsidized "affordable housing",
              housing costs are arbitrated by the market.
              Landlords charge what they can based upon
              the demand for an area. Landlords are most
              excited when a lot of people with money want to
              live in an area. When people with money aren't
              interested in an area, landlords have little
              incentive to put money into their property,
              because they won't earn enough of a profit
              since nobody will pay high enough rent.
              Buildings deteriorate and are torched so
              landlords can collect insurance money. Lots lay
              fallow, buildings deteriorate, and social services

              Gentrification happens because of this
              relationship between property and capital,
              because the land owner can make a profit off
              the fact that somebody is living on their land. It
              is this profit-motive that keeps poor people
              moving at the whim of the wealthier folks.
              Displacement of poor and working class people
              is built into the very structure of capitalism. 

              Cities encourage gentrification because it will
              generate more tax revenues, which city
              governments increasingly depend on as the
              federal government moves away from
              supporting local governments. Thus cities have
              an incentive to encourage reinvestment in an
              area through zoning concessions, tax
              structures, and reducing protection for
              affordable housing. 

              One manifestation of government-developer
              incest is the insidious Tax Increment Financing
              (TIF) zone. Instituted in 1977 and operating in
              44 states, TIFs center around freezing the
              portion of property tax dollars that go into social
              services at current levels for some designated
              period of time, up to 30 years. The extra money
              earned from inflation and rising property values
              is channeled towards reinvestment in the
              neighborhood via city subsidies for developers.
              For an area to be designated a TIF by the
              mayor and city council, it must be officially
              considered 'blighted'. The idea is that after all
              this city-supported development, the area will
              no longer be a haven for blight. 

              Neither will the area be a 'haven' for low-income
              people, who get their social services and then
              their homes taken away as rents and property
              taxes rise in response to the reinvestment.
              What's worse, the excess money can be moved
              between TIF zones that border each other, so
              low income residents in a newer TIF area may
              be paying to further develop an area already
              gentrified by an existing TIF. Because TIFs can
              last for so long, developers may continue to get
              subsidies long after the area resembles a
              Starbucks-laced American Dream. 

              Government encouragement of gentrification
              also takes the form of zoning concessions,
              reduced protection for affordable housing, and
              weaker rent control laws. For example,
              developer David Walentas tried for nearly 20
              years to get permission to gentrify the DUMBO
              (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass)
              area of Brooklyn, NY, an industrial,
              non-residentially zoned area. Throughout the
              80's and 90's city and state governments
              argued he lacked funding; if private market
              investors were not willing to fund him, why
              should they grant him the change in zoning
              necessary for him to redevelop the area
              residentially? But the state of New York did
              move their labor department into one of the
              buildings he purchased in the area, stabilizing
              his investment in the area enough to encourage
              several arts galleries to open. Finally in 1998,
              after a yuppified arts gallery community was set
              up, the city government broke down. They took
              the crucial step of rezoning the area, giving him
              full permission to develop luxury residential
              condos and an entertainment pier. 

              Organizations originally intended to support
              low-income housing, like the Federal Housing
              Authority (FHA), are increasingly used to funnel
              money towards developers. FHA support was
              crucial in the development of the Queens
              neighborhood Long Island City, a mixed area of
              factories, warehouses, and working class
              apartment buildings. Developers were unable to
              gain a foothold for most of the 80's; banks were
              unwilling to lend to smaller developers seeking
              projects in such a 'risky' area. In order to push
              the area towards more lucrative developments,
              a large corporation was formed in the mid 80's
              including such key government players as the
              New York Port Authority and the city's
              Economic Development Corporation. 

              As soon as neighborhood resistance to the
              corporation's luxury development project was
              organized, a NY state organization intended to
              build affordable housing joined the behemoth
              corporation; the state organization perversely
              had the power to squash local opposition to
              development proposals. The final straw in the
              fight against luxury development was mortgage
              insurance for the project issued by, surprise,
              the Federal Housing Authority! The FHA
              justified the development by saying they were
              supposed to support development "pioneers".
              By the end, these gentrification pioneers were
              supported by four government organizations
              including two intended to protect affordable
              housing. What the fuck?

              The city cheats and lies

              Real, tangible neighborhood improvements
              often originate not from corrupt government
              organizations but from within the neighborhood.
              People in a neighborhood often have specific
              ideas of what could make their neighborhood a
              better place to live- for example, where better
              lighting is needed, where traffic could be
              re-routed to make the roads safer, where
              gardens could be put in. People can do these
              things themselves even in the absence of city
              support, with immediate results. However,
              physical improvements are easily co-opted. For
              example, several south Berkeley
              neighborhoods, frustrated with cars speeding
              through their neighborhood streets, took
              initiative and created traffic-slowing detours with
              concrete barriers and planters at key
              intersections. Later, Berkeley cops used the
              same method to corral drug dealers in areas
              with lots of drug sales. 

              While homemade improvements can be
              immensely satisfying in the short term, the
              kicker is that once neighborhood improvements
              are made, the real estate is more valuable and
              so gentrification is likely to happen anyway.
              Yuppies love those quaint community gardens. 

              City-funded neighborhood improvement is
              usually not done with the community itself in
              mind. Rather it is a vehicle for social cleansing
              and social control. "Improvement" is often a
              justification for criminalizing whole populations
              of people. For example, Oakland has a whole
              set of laws regulating the way people
              congregate in the street. These laws are meant
              to control cruising and what the Oakland PD
              calls 'sideshows', and are only enforced in
              certain, predictably minority and poor areas of
              the city. You can, for instance, hang out in a
              parking lot after watching a movie in the posh
              College Avenue area, but not in the black/latino
              areas of East Oakland. Because of these
              cleansing laws, entire populations of people
              end up in prison, very convenient for the
              prison-industrial complex. 

              Blight control is another mechanism of control,
              allowing the city to decide who can live in an
              area through harassment by fines. Oakland is in
              the process of making it illegal to park a camper
              or RV on the street; RV owners must park their
              vehicles in a garage. Rich people can afford
              storage for campers; poor people often live in
              campers within city limits. 

              Safe, sustaining neighborhoods are an aspect
              of society everyone should enjoy. The way to
              prevent gentrification is definitely not to keep
              affordable neighborhoods crime-ridden and
              scary to both outsiders and the people that live
              there. And the way to prevent crime and drug
              abuse is not to criminalize the culture of youth
              of color and homeless people. A sensible
              strategy towards neighborhood improvement is
              to employ people who actually live in the area to
              do neighborhood cleanup and improvement. A
              number of these programs exist but are often in
              tenuous positions. For example Oakland has a
              youth program training and employing young
              people in street cleanup and environmental
              education. Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown is
              fixated on clean bus stops; the youth program
              offered to step in and clean up the stops, but
              Jerry Brown would rather cut the entire youth
              program in favor of a 24-hr city-wide bus stop
              clean up crew, a more expensive option without
              the benefits of youth employment. Where are
              Jerry Brown's priorities??

              The future of property

              White activists and freaks should take
              responsibility for their role in gentrification and
              should actively work against it. Gentrification,
              housing, displacement issues are not new;
              groups all over the political spectrum are
              already waging campaigns and newer activists
              should see what the scene is. Obviously it is
              good to get in touch with existing groups to
              make sure you don't step on their toes. The
              Autonomous Zone, an anarchist community
              center in Chicago, worked closely with the
              Brown Berets, a Latino activist group already
              active in the same area. When issues came up
              the two groups would contact each other,
              sometimes reserving different days for actions
              associated with a specific group. 

              Artists in the San Francisco Mission District
              were not quite so willing to work with housing
              and displacement activists. As live/work spaces
              first gained popularity among what was still the
              artist fringe, some artists thought city
              regulations were hindering their progress
              converting old warehouses into loft spaces. In
              their excitement they petitioned city hall for
              relaxed building code standards, less obligation
              to affordable housing, and zoning breaks.
              Against the recommendation of other artists
              working with housing groups, the artists refused
              to define "artist" in the code relaxation;
              essentially they wrote a blank check for
              corporate developers to build armies of loft
              space. The result is the San Francisco we see
              now, covered in boring bullshit post modern loft
              space. The politically unsavvy artists wrote their
              own eviction note. 

              Now is an excellent time for more militant
              activists to get involved in anti-gentrification
              campaigns. In the late 1980's, community direct
              action against developers helped temporarily
              dry up enthusiasm for gentrification. For
              example, numerous riots supporting the
              squatter community in New York City's
              Tompkins Square park brought international
              attention to the gentrification of the Lower East
              Side. However, as more militant organizations
              morphed into housing and tenant service
              organizations, developers encountered less
              opposition and charged full speed ahead. The
              time is particularly ripe for direct action in the
              San Francisco Bay Area, where the fall of the
              virtual E-conomy left many developers with
              unfinished projects. Once an area is cleared or
              tamed, it is ready for the newcomers whenever
              they will arrive; but it is also true that the exact
              course of history is now unclear. Diverse,
              community based organization and activism
              may affect the future of all the property for sale
              now in the Bay area. 

              One successful example of gentrification
              resistance is Boston's Dudley Street
              neighborhood. One of Boston's poorest
              neighborhoods, the community got fed up with
              neighborhood decline in and in the early 80's
              organized to improve their neighborhood. They
              managed to improve their neighborhood into an
              extremely pleasant place to live without
              gentrification, through community cohesion and
              involvement at every step of the process, and a
              vision that included social as well as economic
              improvements. The neighborhood organization,
              the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, got
              funding from a local foundation but retained
              control of the spending. In an unprecedented
              victory they gained eminent domain over the
              many empty lots in the neighborhood. They
              launched an impressive affordable housing
              project where families earning as little as
              15,000 a year can buy into co-ops or new
              homes. The neighborhood set up a shopping
              area but allowed only local business to move in,
              with no chain stores or check-cashing outlets
              allowed. Local business started a campaign to
              keep local money in the neighborhood. 

              Specifically, what can white punks, bohemians,
              and activists do to fight the gentrification of their
              neighborhoods? There is not one formula; here
              are some ideas. 

              *Look around and talk to people about
              neighborhood change and anti-displacement
              work already being done. Do oral history
              projects of the neighborhood. 

              *Expose development plans on the part of
              corporations and various branches of
              government. Snake your way into the 'public'
              meetings held by the inner workings of the
              government bureaucracy. Oppose corporate
              development scams with a range of tactics. 

              *Support the foundation of neighborhood
              associations like the Dudley Street
              Neighborhood Initiative. 

              *Help fight individual evictions. 

              *Help with direct neighborhood improvement
              projects like kids projects, gardens, traffic
              slow-down devices (and do other things to fight
              the yuppies who want to leach off this good

              Gentrification is essentially apartheid by race
              and class. There are always multiple cultures
              coexisting in one area; the question is which
              cultures are officially recognized, and what
              political power these recognized cultures have.
              As an area gentrifies, the range of activities and
              people considered acceptable in the area
              shrinks. Formerly vibrant urban areas become
              suburban monocultures were human creativity
              is replaced by packaged experiences OK'd by
              the market. Neighborhood gentrification mirrors
              global homogenization where culture and life
              are governed by an increasingly small number
              of rich, powerful organizations with no
              relevance to the immediate local. Imperialism
              stifles life; a Boston anti-gentrification activist
              shouts, "one longs for more bad taste, for more
              surprise, dirt and looseness, more anarchic,
              unself-conscious play."


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