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Gentrify This: Fighting Back When Your ‘Hood Might Be Under Attack

Gentrify This: Fighting Back When Your ‘Hood Might Be Under Attack

Posted by Dalton Higgins on March 03, 2014

Now that the B, F and N word have become commonplace in popular culture – the latter, for all the worst hip hoppy reasons – may I suggest that the next letter based word used to describe something profane that will grow in popularity might be the G word – as in gentrification. I can’t think of a nastier more compelling word that’s circulating right now that’s radically transforming how working class communities function in cities from Toronto to Sochi and everywhere in between – including Brooklyn.  

When filmmaker Spike Lee recently stated the obvious (and uttered that most offensive G word) concerning how Brooklyn has lost its color and flavour and is no longer quite nearly as affordable or interesting to working class non-white community members, he was greeted with ridicule by some. Then some vandals struck his old address with graffiti and smashed windows to perhaps send a message that some elements from the Brooklyn of old still exist.

Spike’s G word utterance and the accompanying backlash that followed is nothing new. The G word always tends to rear its ugly head when massive sporting venues are needed to be built to prop up major sporting endeavours like the building of the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn in 2012 to house the Brooklyn Nets. Likewise, it was “Wassup G” time all over again given the multitude of sporting venues that were developed to house athletes from around the world for the Sochi Olympics in Russia (which by the way is not fully over, in fact, it’s just beginning for Paralympics athletes this week).

In the lead up to the 2015 Pan American games in Toronto, I would imagine that leading urban culture critics from far and wide are getting set to unleash copy that critically analyzes how the GTA and surrounding regions residents who aren’t wealthy might handle any forthcoming increase in renting and housing costs and/or long time resident displacement schemes that typically accompany the staging of any major sporting events.  

In what has become a pretty predictable ritual in most cities that host major world games, greedy landlords can drive up rental prices to accommodate the heightened interest in their dwellings that come as a result of being located in a cultural “hotspot” nearby a major sporting venue; the original working class residents who might not fit the social profile of the newly renovated neighbourhoods might get treated as undesirables; property taxes increase and mom and pop shops disappear due to increased costs to stay afloat, among other things.

During the Spike Lee brouhaha, what never seemed to get mentioned is that community residents in Brooklyn do have voices and can rally to protect and preserve certain aspects of their neighbourhoods in some very vital ways. These same large clusters of neighbourhood residents who are displeased with the transformation of their neighbourhood and who helped elect their local area politicians can organize to talk about the issues that affect them directly. There is power in numbers and making connections with a critical mass of your community’s neighbours can go a far way in letting your oppositional voices be heard to politicians, developers and local area BIA’s.

Good organizing on the ground can make big business intruders shake in their boots as they prep for a community transformation. Do you know who your area city councillor is? Are you in contact with any of your community’s organizers? Do you talk to the residents in your community? Are you aware of any groups or organizations that fight for tenants rights? If not, it’s time to get familiar.

Before any signs of gentrification take flight, community residents should already be demanding that their neighbourhood schools, parks and libraries be kept up to a level that benefits them directly. They should not have to wait for improvements in these areas when the newer residents and business interests threaten to move in. Will the West Don Lands that are being developed to be the eventual home of the 2015 Pan-Am Games Athletes’ Village be transformed into something that can accommodate those who aren’t wealthy once the games wrap up? At a time when there is such a lack of affordable housing options in the GTA, people need to be asking questions now, not after the 2015 Pan Am games wrap up.


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