I stopped by a neighbor's open house party the other day for New Year's. It was 10 or 15 of the whitest people you'll ever see--a lot of 30-something couples, manpurses and diaper bags galore, and names like "Madison" and "Travis" being thrown around. All very nice people, but a narrow sliver of what the neighborhood is actually like. (I felt sort of guilty walking past our Filipino neighbor as he swept his sidewalk, knowing he probably wasn't invited and definitely wasn't going to come.) Anyways, when the conversation turned to neighborhood issues, it sounded straight out of a textbook on gentrification, or worse yet, like something out of "Crash." They gushed about how great it was that Farmer Joe's and La Farine have opened up on Fruitvale--Good developments, I agree, although I was bothered by the tone of voice that said thank God, civilization has come to our neighborhood! We will conquer and tame this area yet!
Anyways, it went on in this vein for a while, with people listing the few outposts of bougie civilization in our little strip. The kicker came when somebody added that their big hope for the Fruitvale/Macarthur intersection was that it get a sushi restaurant soon. A sushi restaurant? Really? Don't you want to at least try not to be a stereotype?
Sometimes I hear people make the argument, "what's wrong with gentrification? Wouldn't the alternative be ghetto-fication, poverty, crime, urban blight?" But this, this is what's wrong with it--white people moving into a neighborhood and claiming to "build community" or "improve the neighborhood," being willfully blind to the community already in their midst. They're not here to improve the neighborhood, but to remake it, preferably in the mold of some perfect little Rockridge fantasy in their head.
I know Johnny Wonderbread doesn't have any plans to go into the local barbershop or nail salon (or even the burrito place?) anytime soon, but those places serve the community too. This kind of gentrification doesn't necessarily improve the neighborhood; it just plops right down alongside the old neighborhood. It doesn't look like a neighborhood gradually on the come-up. It looks like a neighborhood at war with itself. If there were some attempt at middle ground, at engagement with what's already in place, then maybe the gentrifyers wouldn't seem like some kind of straight-out-of-Marx class warriors. But no, people gotta shoot straight for the sushi bar.
Oakland Urban Paths: downtown murals
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