In cities across the US, displacement of long-time residents and their culture, and their exclusion from community decision-making is creating a public health crisis
From 2016 to 2017 I lived in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area studying at The George Washington University. I witnessed the gentrification, subtle ethnic cleansing, and displacement of neighborhoods of color from one of the historically blackest cities in America.
Fancy coffee, high priced condos and displacement<p>Equipped with high-priced coffee, restaurants, and densely packed, high-end 1 and 2-bedroom apartments and condos with faux lawns for pets, cities are informally evicting long-standing families who need and want 3 or 4-bedroom homes. Real estate companies continue to deconstruct and rebrand a community's identity like Harlem—a touchstone of Black culture in New York City and the U.S.—while few communities are able to push back.</p> <p>In Harlem, for example, real estate developers attempted to rebrand part of Harlem as 'SoHa,' which is a nod to the rich Soho neighborhood. </p> <p>Those unable to fight leave remnants of culture, which ultimately are destroyed or <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/black-branding--how-a-dc-neighborhood-was-marketed-to-white-millenials/2017/05/02/68b0ae06-2f47-11e7-9534-00e4656c22aa_story.html" target="_blank">fetishized and appropriated</a> by new inhabitants with their stamp of approval. </p> <p>Some argue that the reduction of blight within a community and improvement in resources—such as parks, bike lanes, renovated housing, and job opportunities—are all reasons to support this practice. </p> <p>But is it <em>really </em>helping a community if residents are forced to leave instead of supported to grow within these neighborhoods? Is it sustainable growth when residents with lower incomes are swapped for residents with higher salaries? </p> <p>Those displaced are often thrown into a cycle of instability and forced to combat disruptions in health care access, loss of community support networks, and additional financial and mental distress. </p> <p>For those residents and communities able to survive the onslaught of gentrification and displacement, they often face overcrowded and substandard housing, loss of community services and institutions, and financial distress due to increased costs of living.</p>
Preserving identity through policy<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY0MDAyMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzE2OTI0OH0.SWfFEdRSXBvEWmECi7srdbb64p8-3-bT5VNem0e7h84/img.jpg?width=980" id="fed23" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d3bf100a9e56b16129a9f49faf2db3d4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Waverly Place in Chinatown, San Francisco. (Credit: Russell Mondy/flickr)<p>However, even in the booming San Francisco Bay Area, it doesn't have to be this way: San Francisco's Chinatown is one of the few communities that has been able to preserve its identity and residents. This neighborhood, as well as several other "Chinatowns" around the country, was formed as a response to discriminatory policies dating back to the 1880's with the Chinese Exclusion Act.</p> <p>In 1986, the <a href="https://www.urbandisplacement.org/sites/default/files/images/urbandisplacementproject_policycasestudy_chinatown_april2016.pdf" target="_blank">Chinatown Rezoning Plan</a> was implemented to protect the community from being re-designed by property developers. For example, by designating the area as mixed-use, Chinatown was unique from the rest of downtown since it included both residential and commercial development. </p> <p>This policy blocked developers from repurposing the land strictly for commercial use (e.g. office buildings), or high-rise condos. At that time, most buildings in Chinatown were places where shopkeepers worked and lived. This policy allowed for the community to uphold its structure of mixed-use living.This rezoning plan also set height limits on buildings within the area, banned demolition unless it was deemed to protect public safety, and banned the conversion of residential buildings into other uses.</p> <p>These efforts, in addition to many others along the way, placed residents ahead of economic growth and allowed median rents in Chinatown to stay relatively low over the past two decades. The result has been a community that retains its culture and its people.</p> <p>Unfortunately, the current federal administration plans are focused on property and economic development, not on the community and its residents.</p>