(Re) Thinking Gentrification

by Ronel JF Remy and Tom King

ATB is thrilled to introduce you all to Ronel JF Remy, one of our community partners for This Place/Displaced!

Originally from Haiti, Ronel has lived in the US for over 20 years, making his home in Boston neighborhoods including Dorchester, Somerville, Hyde Park and Roslindale. After seven moves due to rent increases and other housing inequities, Ronel is now settled in Brockton and works as an organizer for City Life/Vida Urbana. In addition to collaborating with playwright Stephanie K. Brownell for This Place/Displaced, Ronel was generous enough to sit down with us to share his thoughts on displacement on camera.

Listen up!

The one thing I know folks don’t understand when talking about gentrification is to define it… to define it would go a long long way.

Ronel JF Remy

Gentrification: “[A] form of neighborhood change that occurs when higher-income groups move into low-income areas, potentially altering the cultural and financial landscape of the original neighborhood. In the most recent decade, gentrification has been manifested in the return to the cities, with redevelopment and investment in many downtown areas of the nation. Greater demand for centrally located housing, particularly amidst an existing affordability crisis, may be fueling community change in many American metropolitan areas. With increased demand and housing costs comes increased housing-cost burdens, the potential for displacement of low-income residents, long-run resegregation of neighborhoods, and heightened barriers to entry for new low-income residents looking to move to places of opportunity.”

Learn More!

It’s a question of perception. To some, it’s a wonderful thing, best thing since sliced bread… and [to] some of us who are victims of it, it’s a question of life and death sometimes. It’s a question of survival.

Ronel JF Remy

As Ronel says, increased urban density is often framed as a positive. Migration to cities–along with enhanced infrastructure, higher buildings with more units, and more walkable communities–will be a key strategy for mitigating climate change, and a consequence of climate displacement and resulting refugee crises. Predominantly white millennials and empty nest baby boomers choosing to move to cities are often seeking greater cultural, racial, gender, and sexual diversity, or access to creative communities (as creative workers or consumers). Some experts argue optimistically that gentrification will contribute to increased tolerance for difference and greater economic opportunity for under-resourced urban communities.

But in practice, gentrification has meant displacement of existing residents. Rising rents and property taxes force longstanding residents and small business owners out of the communities and homes in which they have invested lifetimes of labor, resources, and love. New infrastructure forces the relocation of housing and local businesses. Enhanced infrastructure can also exacerbate the longstanding asymmetrical distribution of those who benefit from and those who are harmed by energy production, waste disposal, access to clean water, and other everyday aspects of infrastructure–a process known as “environmental gentrification.” Even those community members who can stay in place may feel that the influx of new residents and businesses adversely transforms the heritage, significance, and value of home.

In practice, white migration to and gentrification of urban areas can reinforce white privilege and existing racial and ethnic divisions. Predominantly white, upper middle class creative workers and consumers invest in projects speaking to their backgrounds and interests rather than facilitating the creative practices and stories of existing communities.

Learn more here and here and here.

What do you want, really? Is it easy life with money and wealth and everything? Or better life for–not just for you–but for many, many others?

Ronel JF Remy

ATB has developed This Place/Displaced to bring attention to and support anti-displacement activism. We hope you’ll advocate for big picture urban planning to allow in-place people and communities to benefit from new economic and creative opportunities, and to prevent their displacement by (predominantly white and upper middle class) newcomers with greater privilege and more resources. Formulating anti-displacement policies begins with bringing existing residents to the table. It begins with asking: What histories, memories, stories, hopes, and values are already in place in this place? Who do we want to live in our neighborhoods and benefit from economic growth and creative place-making?

Please join us at the Charlestown Working Theatre August 17-25th to see A House of a Different Color, the short play based on Ronel’s story, plus seven more new short plays. Be sure to pick up ATB’s zine “From Displacement to Place-Making and Place-Keeping” to learn more about the impact of gentrification on Boston communities and stick around for some stellar post-show conversations with Ronel and others!

Thank you so much, Ronel!