Every few weeks, or so, I encounter diatribes about the evils of gentrification, and how white hipsters are destroying poor neighborhoods of color by driving the residents away and bringing in the Starbucks.
This is true, in part (I know of plenty of fixie-riding, VW driving, ariels-as-a-hobby-and-ocassional-paid-gig white folk living in poor neighborhoods) however it is not even close to being the whole of the story, and there a couple of assumptions that seem to be built into these diatribes that have really irked me:
Firstly, all white folk who are not obviously poor but live in mostly non-white neighborhoods are being lumped in as active participants in this evil (even when they are artistes of some form). Secondly, that all of the blame for the effects of gentrification are being placed on outsiders. And thirdly, that there is absolutely no good to be had from anyone of better means moving into a poor neighborhood.
Most simply, gentrification is the movement of wealthier folks into a previously poor neighborhood such that the poorer folks are displaced. In the more complex situation of current urban gentrification, it also has the connotations of white people displacing people of color destroying culturally-tied communities. In most scenarios this is true, however it doesn't have to follow this pattern, and as much of the problem is the result of the nature of the invaded community, a cultural rot, as it is due to the influx of new residents.
This rot is not related to race, or only low income brackets, and it isn't even new (Beau and Luke Duke, along with cousin Daisy popularized a white-trash version of it on TV screens during the 80's, for instance) but as I am addressing the problems within impoverished urban communities of color, ghetto/barrio rot is mostly what I will be citing. I also want to clarify that I am not suggesting that this is endemic, but that there is enough of this rot to ensure that the communities most at risk from gentrification are not fragile gems, but are already sick and struggling and destroying themselves on their own.
A community that has a high murder rate, but won't talk to police officers ("Don't snitch." WTF? Those are your children and neighbors being shot!), that has high-unemloyment rate yet every third teenager on the bus is talking on an expensive cell-phone, and that has more mothers with baby-daddies than parents in dedicated partnerships is not well. Upkeep on the rot-ridden parts of the community weighs a whole community down.
I can understand that lack of family support and horrific media role-models probably directly contributes to young folk who are more inclined to try and hustle for immediate bling than invest in themselves so that they can survive long-term. I also understand that there is a lot of social inertia at work such that it seems impossible to make multigenerational community ethics more appealing than the flash of gangsta lifestyles. And I understand that there is a huge safety risk in standing opposed to, or even merely not being part of, neighborhood corruption.
This is exactly why outsiders, particularly of the kinda-well-off or better variety, can be a good thing: People with money can spend it in local businesses and will draw new businesses to the area (new businesses result in more local jobs and more money in general in the community). These outsiders can be active examples that there are attractive lifestyles outside of limited set otherwise visible in said neighborhoods. There is something to be said for keeping up with the Joneses when that keeping up includes simple things like yard care, good-neighborliness, and other things that reflect investment in a community.
Which brings me to the important part where gentrification so often (asymptotically approaching 'always') fails. Gentrification is only beneficial if the outsiders don't stay outsiders and actually become neighbors. A formerly abandoned warehouse or factory turned into a fancy condo or apartment complex in a poor neighborhood does absolutely no good as a gated island with residents who leave the neighborhood for all of their social, retail, and leisure activities.
And, although the numbers are small compared to the number of moving into neighborhoods for the hipster values, there are plenty of white folk who do spend time in the trenches trying to help out. Americore workers, for instance, really aren't subsidized enough to live anywhere but in the neighborhoods they are placed in.
I am not claiming that urban gentrification is a good thing, just that it is only a thing. And, at the moment, even as a bad thing it can't be worse that the rot that is already destroying the affected communities.