(Re) Thinking Gentrification
by Ronel JF Remy and Tom King
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.
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.
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!