Gentrification – defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area (such as an urban neighborhood) accompanied by an influx of middle-class or affluent people” – is a topic that has been explored for decades, from its faults to its strengths. It has been encouraged because of the business it brings to impoverished areas, yet also criticized for pushing existing residents out of their homes when the cost of living rises.
There is plenty of conflicting discussion surrounding gentrification – racially, economically and educationally. Some studies, such as one from the University of California, Berkeley, discovered trends in gentrification. They reported that the expansion of middle- and upper-middle-class residents into low-income communities doesn’t result in as much displacement as we’d thought. After studying the trends of urban cities, they found that the displacement rate is generally higher in nongentrified communities.
However, other opinions and voices against gentrification are concerned that the introduction of different incomes, cultures and classes destroys existing culture in impoverished areas. For example, in 2014 filmmaker Spike Lee spoke publicly against gentrification, expressing his issues with residents who join gentrified communities and try to change or limit the customs of those who originally lived there. He spoke on behalf of the communities and culture he had been part of, saying they were being destroyed by gentrification.
Despite the fact that displacement rates are statistically lower in some gentrified neighborhoods, existing residents of those neighborhoods are forced to watch their homes and communities transform before their eyes. This is where the large debate comes in: Is gentrification harming more than it’s helping? Who is impacted the most by gentrification, and can communities benefit from gentrification without having to forfeit their existing cultures?
Residents of the Greater Lansing area have interacted with the positive and negative aspects of gentrification. Plenty of gentrified areas exist in Lansing, especially in the popular districts of Old Town and REO Town. Businesses like Blue Owl Coffee Roasters, MEAT and the Good Truckin’ Diner have not only helped areas of Lansing flourish economically but have also merged the East Lansing and Lansing communities together. Transportation systems such as the Capital Area Transportation Authority, Uber and Lyft also fuel the merging of these two communities.
However, a large portion of Lansing is neglected due to the gentrification of certain areas. South Lansing makes up approximately 60 percent of the city’s population yet is recognized significantly less than the gentrified areas. The Rev. Anthony Patrick of Mount Hope Presbyterian Church in south Lansing told the Lansing State Journal that his community is “… an area of opportunity. The question is whether it will stay that way or become gentrified.” He also discussed the negative image of south Lansing that is portrayed in the media, despite the family-friendly community he promotes and the affordable housing that is offered for low-income families.
As Patrick made clear, gentrified areas must not become all-encompassing representations of urban communities. The cultures of those who have always lived in the communities must not be erased. Though advancements in the Lansing area and across the country have aided impoverished areas economically, there is also a cost to consider. They can unite to form culturally rich environments for the new and the old.