Friday, March 13, 2009

Punx is Gentrifiers

Punx Is Gentrifiers
Breaking it down and getting a clue about your role in displacing others.

By Michelle Zenarosa

So you wanna start an infoshop? DIY space? Punk haus? Or maybe you just want to instigate ‘punk night’ at the local dive bar? Well let’s trace the usual steps taken to make this happen…

You probably don’t have much money, so you look towards an area that you can afford. You have found a sweet spot, close to all the local hotspots, and you fill out an application to rent. You look like a much better renter than the people who rented before you and the landlord doesn’t seem to care one way or another, so s/he hands you a lease and you couldn’t be more excited about how promising your new life is looking.

Fast forward a little bit. It’s a warm night in town and you’re out on the rooftop reflecting on what has happened since you set up shop. Suddenly you realize how much has changed in such a short time: a whole new set of affluent faces have moved into the neighborhood. A new yoga studio, an art gallery and an upscale pet boutique have even staked their territory down the street.

What has happened isn’t some new trend—it’s called gentrification. The European Commission’s building design and construction program describes it in more definite terms as the “unit-by-unit acquisition of the housing of low income residents, industrial or commercial property by high-income residents for art, cultural, fashion or other high-status use.”

Contrary to popular belief, gentrification it is not a normal market phenomenon. Displacement means force. It entails harassment and violence, especially of tenants. By initiating and/or contributing to gentrification, you create the potential for landlords to displace tenants.

The main problem with gentrification is displacement, but that’s not the only consequence. When poor residents get displaced it’s nearly impossible for them to find adequate housing because of the reduction in cheaper housing stock and the nonexistent attempt to re-house them in the richer suburbs.

Gentrification, in one form or another, has been displacing indigenous people for hundreds of years. There is a long, complex history of white folks claiming land as theirs whenever they see it fitting to their desires, profit and convenience. And it isn’t unique to just your region, it’s a dangerous wave that is happening everywhere and fast. But the good news is that it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the beginning of the end.

What You Need Is A Little R&R
No folks, I’m not talking about rest and relaxation. I’m talking about Responsibility & Resistance. The first step to countering the gentrification wave is taking responsibility. “But it’s not my fault,” you say? Regardless of the intention, the reality is that when gentrification occurs, even your mere presence contributes to the displacement of the indigenous residents-- not to mention the destruction of the spirit of the existing community. Just because you don’t have a working relationship with corporate scum developers, doesn’t mean you aren’t an active participant in gentrifying a neighborhood. Complacency and taking advantage of a poorer neighborhood at the expense of its residents is just as bad!

But don’t get discouraged—that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to move out ASAP. There are ways you can consciously resist becoming a gentrifier while continuing to live in the neighborhood you live in.

Turning Intention Into Action
Once you become aware of and accept your role in gentrifying a neighborhood and decide you want to do something about it, there is a vast number of ways you can prevent or at least minimize displacement.

Even though it might seem like you are fighting a huge invisible monster, don’t let it make you feel like you are powerless. There are concrete ways to combat gentrification before the wave hits. But it’s going to take some work. Here are some suggestions:
-Determine the needs of the community. Use your diy skills and flier! Hold a town forum and invite everyone to discuss options, concerns and needs.
-Identify potential areas of contention. This means properties like run-down, dilapidated or abandoned buildings that are usually deemed undesirable land. Developers often wait until these properties are dirt cheap so they can buy it and re-develop as expensive luxury condos. Other properties to look out for also include the other side of the spectrum: buildings being bought-out by large chains. If a Borders or Barnes & Noble is looking to buy out the local bookstore, organize to resist that change from occurring. Making sure native businesses can continue to afford rent in the neighborhood is another key part to the puzzle.
-Contact local government. After the community knows what it wants (i.e. community garden, recreation center, low-income housing) and there is available land, let your city councilmembers know what’s going on and steer them in the direction of the community.
-Brainstorm for financing strategies. Build alliances with nonprofit organizations, potential investors, and even landlords or private developers to create proactive financing tactics.
- Work with existing development proposals. If it looks like that huge condo complex is going to happen, try to minimize displacement by making sure that local government sets aside a percentage of the development for affordable housing, living wage jobs, parking and/or open space. You can even negotiate for monetary assistance to local nonprofit community organizations or for implementation of rent control policies.

And if you’re looking for less-intensive ways of resisting, get creative! Don’t forget about the neighborhood you live in when you’re arranging the next event at your house or infoshop. When you are consistently bringing outsiders into the mix and isolating yourselves from the actual community you are in, you are contributing to gentrification. Instead of having that political prisoner-writing event, maybe one night you can hold a puppet-making workshop for the neighborhood kids and have a parade or puppet show for the community. Or perhaps for the next vegan potluck you hold at your house, you can invite your neighbors too. The best way to counter gentrification is to keep the life and bonds of the existing community strong and alive. Instead of conflicting with one another, reinforce each other.

Of course every community has its own specific needs and unique cultural vitality and these are just some ways to approach gentrification and best time to start organizing is at the beginning of it.

The Revolution Is LOCAL
…And it needs to happen now, in our neighborhoods. There’s obviously more than one way to gentrify a neighborhood and punks aren’t always the catalysts. But it’s classic for a structure like an infoshop or a punk-affiliated cafe to be the first sign of imminent gentrification. Nevertheless, punks can and do have the means to break the cycle. After your neighborhood gets gentrified and you are priced out, think again before helping to gentrify yet another neighborhood. Now that you have the knowledge, don’t let it happen again. Make responsible and well thought-out decisions to make sure you can do the most to secure the community you will move into next. There is absolutely no reason why people who have worked so hard to build their lives and improve their neighborhoods should not be able to stay there.

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