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I live in Harlem.

That is to say, I live in what was fairly recently Harlem. Now the real estateniks, eager to sell or rent all the new "luxury apartments" that have sprung up like multi-story toadstools around here, are striving mightily to rename this patch SoHa (short for South Harlem, geddit?).

I thought the arrival a couple years back of a Starbucks within a couple blocks of my house signaled the victory of gentrification, but my bud Daniel points out that at least they hire young folk from the 'hood. The three-week-old $4-per-cookie bakery, an outpost of the Upper West Side shop Levain, is even closer to me--and staffed mainly by white hipster kids. Adding offense to injury, it's in the space occupied just a couple years back by an under-capitalized coffee bar cum African art gallery called Tribal Spears.

At any rate I am able to watch, up close and personal, the tide of young educated folks with professions or well paid jobs, mainly white, that is surging back into many city centers. This article, by my friend Dr. Mark Naison, of the African and African American Studies Department at Fordham takes a deeper look at the other side of the phenomenon, the increasing concentration of people of color into the ring of the oldest and most densely populated suburbs built around the cities.

One political lesson from all this, by the by, is that activists working to develop a base among the folks in poor and oppressed communities should keep a weather eye out. You can see that whole base that you've worked so hard to build up dispersed in half a decade.

JEFFREY'S STORY: A TALE OF DEMOGRAPHIC INVERSION
Dr. Mark Naison

Fordham University
March 25, 2011

During the 15 years I spent coaching and running sports leagues in Brooklyn, one of my favorite players was Jeffrey A. Jeffery was a tall, muscular, incredibly sweet Puerto Rican kid who was one of the best rebounders his age I ever saw. During the four years he spent on the CYO basketball team my friend Ed McDonald and I coached, our team always came in somewhere between 2nd and 4th in Brooklyn, in large part because Jeffrey so dominated the backboards. He also left a trail of bruises and broken limbs on opposing players, not because he was mean, but because he was so strong and hyperactive that he sent bodies flying whenever he hit the boards

But the reason I am writing this is not primarily to laud Jeffrey’s basketball skills, though he did go on to play high school and college ball, but to talk about the bittersweet residential odyssey of Jeffrey’s family, which epitomizes a phenomenon now taking place in Urban America which scholars call "demographic inversion"-- the displacement of poor people and working class people from the inner city to the suburbs. This pattern, quite common in Europe, especially Paris, is now become the norm in the US as wealthy people migrate from the suburbs to the inner city and take over many communities which were once working class and minority.

Jeffery’s family turned out to be an exemplar of this trend. When we recruited Jeffrey for our team in the mid-'90s, his family lived above his grandfather’s liquor store on Smith Street near Bergen in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn. During those days, Smith Street was a pretty rough place. Only four or five blocks from the Gowanus Houses, it was a tough gritty shopping strip that was an occasional gathering place for crack dealers and stick-up kids who made life tough for the working class Puerto Rican and Dominican families who made up the majority of the neighborhood’s residents.

Jeffrey’s father, an electrician for the city who was a member of Local Three of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, wanted to get his family out of the neighborhood, fearful that his children would be victims of violence, or drawn into negative activity, so he saved all his money and bought a beautiful home in a suburban community, Brentwood, on Long Island. The family moved while Jeffrey in 10th grade and still on our team, and he actually commuted in from Brentwood twice a week so he helped lead our team to another 2nd Place finish in the Brooklyn CYO Championships.

This should have been a happy ending for this hardworking Puerto Rican family, but no sooner did Jeffrey’s family leave Smith Street that it began making a transition into Brooklyn’s hottest restaurant district, filled with chic cafes which served French, Spanish, Italian and Caribbean cuisine to a population of mostly white brownstone owners and apartment dwellers which swelled the population of adjoining blocks. And as for Brentwood, the arrival of Jeffrey’s family coincided with a wave of white and middle class flight which turned Brentwood into a majority Black and Latino town plagued with violence and gang problems which Jeffrey’s father thought he had left behind in Brooklyn.

This transition did not take place overnight. It took a full ten years for Smith Street to evolve into a place where wealthy young white people live, shop and eat, and it also took that amount of time for Brentwood to deteriorate to the point where it was a place upwardly mobile minority families wanted to avoid, rather than migrate to.

But this transition was not idiosyncratic. It mirrors a trend that can be found not only in neighborhoods like Harlem, Williamsburg and the Lower East Side, but in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and other post industrial cities where the FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) and health care sectors create high paying jobs in the Center City that attract wealthy people back while causing rents to rise in ways that drive working class people out.

More and more, American cities are going to resemble Paris, where the wealthy people live close to the center, and poor people live in the suburbs. Social policy, and urban policy, had better adjust to this transition.

[Crossposted from Fire on the Mountain.]

Originally posted to lao hong han on Fri Apr 08, 2011 at 09:29 AM PDT.

Also republished by Black Kos community and History for Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  When you're reading about the 2010 (7+ / 0-)

    census as the results are issued in spurts and dribbles, remember there's a lot more than redistricting and long term voting trends involved...

  •  there is also the huge trend (7+ / 0-)

    of african americans moving to the South, which has been talked about a lot recently (can't find an article, but I've read a couple in the last few months).  

    This trend is being fueled in part by affordability - getting driven out of cities for reasons eluded to in this diary - but also family and cultural factors.  

  •  This is a simplistic view of "gentrification" (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mariken, highfive, 1918, neroden

    Plenty of the people, largely white, largely younger, who are now populating Brooklyn, Oakland, Chicago, Philly, LA, etc are not wealthy by any means.  When I lived in Brooklyn I was making $35000 a year, which by New York standards isn't shit.  And I probably was on the high end of salary as far as my friends.

    So called "gentrification" is always presented as rich white people vs. poor minorities.  But I for one am really tapped into the scene in these places, and while there is certainly some of that, many of the white people that are moving to these places to enjoy the lifestyle and amenities are not rich at all.  They are simply younger and without families.

    This demographic mixing and rediscovery of the benefits of urban environments is great for America and I for one don't have much patience for those who lament it.  

    •  It's not mixing it's displacement (5+ / 0-)

      In the heart of Charlotte, NC is Fourth Ward.

      It used to be a predominantly African-American neighborhood.

      Then someone discovered that it was close to downtown and wouldn't yuppies like to move on in and fiix the old beat-down houses?

      They even have a neighborhood bumper sticker - It's a black W on a white field... the inverse of the Dubya bumper sticker.

    •  True ... but accurate (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      fizziks, Mariken, lao hong han, neroden

      You were part of the first wave of gentrification, which usually consists of young hipsters and other young, single folks who are the pioneers in the neighborhood. They make the neighborhood attractive for a second wave of consolidators who are more upscale.

      But also: the 'burbs don't in this case become exclusively black/brown. Instead, as in Paris, some remain upscale (and more white) while others move downscale.

      •  Pioneers? I know some folks who weathered (7+ / 0-)

        riots, crack cocaine, and general mayhem while staying in the neighborhoods of their childhoods.  Many of them take exception to the hipsters being considered pioneers.

        I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear--Martin Luther King, Jr.

        by conlakappa on Fri Apr 08, 2011 at 12:16:38 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It is harder to weather a place when you are (0+ / 0-)

          a conspicuous racial minority in that place.

        •  In relation to the following wave (0+ / 0-)

          of more upscale gentrifiers.

          You're thinking of "pioneers" as in "people who endured tough conditions." That's certainly truer of the folks you're talking about than of the young hipsters who decide that a neighborhood is edgy but interesting and affordable and move in.

          But the word is accurate in describing the social process--though I'm extremely sympathetic to people who resent that conditions in their neighborhood improve only as a result of more upscale people pushing them out, and I support and work with groups that fight gentrification.

    •  Location, location, location. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      fizziks, neroden

      Count me as one of them. The cost of housing is higher in the city but you can eliminate all automobile expense, so it's affordable and you save a ton of commuting time each week. I walk to work in 15 minutes. I bike in the park every morning. I'm healthier and happier.

      "It does not require many words to speak the truth." -- Chief Joseph, native American leader (1840-1904)

      by highfive on Fri Apr 08, 2011 at 11:14:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Well, at least now that city centers are whiter... (4+ / 0-)

    ...we can expect to see more public and private investment in them.  

    Yes, noted with annoyance, in case you're wondering!

    Todo tiempo pasado fue mejor. I don't believe that, but I hear this sig is permanent.

    by Rich in PA on Fri Apr 08, 2011 at 11:00:55 AM PDT

  •  White flight back, or never went away? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lao hong han

    I knew about the shrinking of the traditional black and Hispanic neighborhoods in NYC.

    In many ways, that could be good. Better City services will come -- more Police security, more frequent visits from the Sanitation trucks, a few subway stations fixed up, the Parks renovated, more frequent repaving of the pot-holed avenues, etc. And perhaps in the sweet by and by, a few neighborhood schools could become integrated. Perhaps.

    In many of these areas, there were many vacant lots and abandoned buildings, some going back to the riots in the 1960s. Recently, many new apartment buildings went up in Harlem with very little old housing lost.

    I hadn't realized how much of the withering of Harlem and Bed-Stuy and other ethnic neighborhoods was due to the traditional moving up and out.

    And sadly, I had not realized that White Flight was still a big factor in American life.

    But I should have known. The real estate industry (from the brokers to the mortgage lenders) makes so much money exploiting racism in this way that it will probably never go away. Wonder if the real estate agents still deliver 'Warnings' door to door to alert the residents that they must sell, and sell quickly, even at a sacrifice price, if they don't want to end up the only white faces on the block?

    They did that stuff in the bad old days, but it didn't make the papers much under Clinton. I'm sure Bush removed any and all staff for enforcing the equal housing laws, so it probably has come roaring back. Another part of our nation's Second Ending of the Reconstruction that was supposed to make black people equal under the law.

    •  The racism is secondary to the money.... (0+ / 0-)

      The fact is that the traditional "rich suburbs" are turning into the "too expensive to live in" suburbs due to transportation.

      At least Brentwood's got the LIRR.  It'll turn out to be better than any suburb which is off the train lines; those are going to go really rotten really fast.

      Read pp. 1-7 of Krugman's _The Great Unraveling_ (available from Google Books). NOW.

      by neroden on Fri Apr 08, 2011 at 01:15:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'll be sure... (7+ / 0-)
    One political lesson from all this, by the by, is that activists working to develop a base among the folks in poor and oppressed communities should keep a weather eye out. You can see that whole base that you've worked so hard to build up dispersed in half a decade.

    To disperse this information to the activists who would find this useful but largely are not represented here at DKOS.  Thanks! I've seen this trend for at least a decade down here in Philly.  It is oddly strange how the nice parts of SW Philly are now University City or West Philly.  Growing up in that area, south of Baltimore will always be SW Philly and I remind any gentrifier that fixes their lips to say otherwise that this still holds true regardless of what the realtors say and how uncomfortable they may be living in SW Philly.

    I for one am tired of pandering to perpetrators --- many of whom are opposed to any discussion however it comes. -- soothsayer99 DPK Caucus

    by princss6 on Fri Apr 08, 2011 at 11:37:10 AM PDT

    •  It's that way in chunks of D.C. Or the D.C. area. (6+ / 0-)

      With the residency-for-city-jobs requirement eliminated for all but those at the cabinet level, flight to Prince George's County got even greater.  Or parts of the county that were intended for those with good incomes.  Interestingly, the folks at the other end of the economic spectrum were also displaced from the city and headed there though to different parts [it's a big county].  When Mayor Fenty sent out a talent call, young whites answered and moved to the city.

      I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear--Martin Luther King, Jr.

      by conlakappa on Fri Apr 08, 2011 at 12:20:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This has to do with transportation. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lao hong han

    It was always an outlier for the suburbs to be well-to-do, and it was driven by cheap gasoline and massive road spending.

    That's unsustanainable, and so the cities are returning to their status as the homes of the well-to-do, with the poor driven to the suburbs.  Or worse, to rural areas.  Rural poverty has been strictly on the increase for most of history.  With some exceptions during the late medieval and early industrial period when the countryside was healthier.

    Read pp. 1-7 of Krugman's _The Great Unraveling_ (available from Google Books). NOW.

    by neroden on Fri Apr 08, 2011 at 01:10:37 PM PDT

  •  For the last few years I've been seeing (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lao hong han, shanikka

    lots of poor African-American and Hispanic people moving to the old small cities north and west of New York: Peekskill, Newburgh, Middletown, Monticello. I figured that they were people from the city who were being priced out.

    Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað

    by milkbone on Fri Apr 08, 2011 at 01:21:19 PM PDT

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