Monday, March 29, 2004

The Gentrification Genii

In some circles, gentrification is a dirty word. They speak of the evil middle class families moving into poor neighborhoods in New York pushing out the poor. Rents rise, bodegas are replaced by Starbucks, and people are displaced. In some part, this is true, but there is also much that is good that comes from gentrification.

In our neighborhood, the middle class and the poor live side by side. The poor are protected by rent stabilization laws, so they can pay $500 for their two bedroom apartment, while their white neighbors pay $1000 for a one bedroom. Sure, the landlord isn’t too happy about this situation, but there isn’t much he can do about it.

The local school now has a sizable population of middle class parents. These new parents have formed a powerful committee that pressures the administration to increase services for the kids. They volunteer their time to help tutor kids in need. They throw fund raising events to help provide supplies for the school. Other parents are very grateful for these services.

Our church has been kept captive by a few surly old people. We call them the Adams family. The head usher, Lurch, scowls at fidgety kids, and Morticia, the head singer, leads the congregation in dirges. Last week, parents began organizing a committee to start a children’s mass and a fund raising dinner for the sagging church.

Parents are organized through the work of one entrepreneurial parent, Jessica, who runs an e-mail list. She informs parents of the dates to register kids for the local school, of yoga classes, of available babysitters, and of local protests to stop reductions in services for the subway. I receive four or five messages a day from the tireless Jessica. Another parent has a website of local events.

Middle class families do these things because they are informed, educated, and empowered. The benefits of better schools and cleaner subways benefit the entire neighborhood. Poor families guard their valuable, rent controlled apartments, because they reap the collective good of gentrification. And certainly middle class families benefit from the diversity of the neighborhood by exposing their children to different cultures.

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