Gentrification

Written by Robert

You're nervous that I'm writing about this topic, right?  Me too.  Gentrification is a social justice issue and it's about race.  I'm white, privileged and I'm going to say something wrong.  Let's proceed.

In the 1950s, after decades of rapid growth, Portland hit a population number that it would stay at for the next 30 years.  The cause of stagnating population growth in the cities during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and the corresponding sharp increase in growth in surrounding suburban communities, has been referred to as ‘White Flight’ which is a catchy two word racist poem.

You can actually see this happening by looking at census data for this time period.  Comparing population numbers for cities and their surrounding suburban areas, you can see that the growth rate stagnates in Portland, relative to population growth overall, and you see a sharp increase in population of places like Lake Oswego.

White Flight is where the more affluent, and therefore more mobile, inhabitants of cities left for the suburbs.  These were mostly white folk and some of them did it because they were super racist.  But to speak frankly, just about everyone who migrated from a city to it's suburbs during this time did it for racial reasons.  Reasons like 'the schools are better' and 'the neighborhoods are clean and quiet' are at their heart racially linked.   The most often stated reason for leaving usually involved getting out before home values dropped.

This perception of declining valuations is of course self-fulfilling.  Home values in these neighborhoods did indeed decline.  There were more sellers than buyers, which made properties in these areas more affordable for lower income families, who were happy to move in.  These neighborhoods became increasingly occupied by immigrants and black people leading to a lot of cultural and class diversity.

These neighborhoods began to be seen as more and more financially risky bets for banks.  This led to a widespread practice referred to as ‘red-lining’ where literal red lines where drawn around portions of a city map where banks would either not loan money to borrowers or would loan at punishing interest rates.  This, of course, depressed home values further and led to the overall decline in the neighborhoods.  If you lived in a red-lined district, you could no longer afford to make improvements or fix major problems with your home because you couldn’t borrow against it.  Portland has an ugly history of red-lining.  The map below is a product of these racist practices.  Maps like this were used by banks in Portalnd as recently as the 1990s to determine who got loans and who didn't

PortlandHOLC-MED_lowres.jpg

You can zoom in on a higher-res version of this map if you want to see how the Going Queen is in a red-lined district.  The irony of this map is that the areas marked in red are on fire today.  If you showed this to someone who lives in Portland, or who is shopping for a home today, they would thank you for conveniently marking all the most desirable and RED HOT areas of the city in red.

The Going Queen is in the Alberta Arts district, one of the fastest gentrifying places in America.  

The wikipedia page for the Alberta Arts District is possibly the most poorly written article about any topic on wikipedia in the history of all of mankind.  Enjoy.

Now that you are back from trying to read that, you probably poked your own eyes out before you could finish it so allow me...

1. WTF does the sentence 'The street was once the essence of the culture contained by the primarily urban and African-American community.' mean?  Was Alberta street a hub for the African American community?  It seems like it must have been in the 70's and 80's?  What community gathering places flourished then?  What about before then?  It's been there for 130 years as far as I can tell.  I would love to actually learn something from this wikipedia article but things are not looking good.

2. How about this gem: "Alberta Street accommodations available to travelers range from hostels to five-star hotels.".  Yea no.  There is exactly one 'hotel' on Alberta Street and it rents trailers and tiny homes (which of course are also trailers).

3. I write run-on sentences.  But I'm just writing this dumb blog.  If I bothered to write a wikipedia article, I'd not hit the publish button on this awkward monstrosity: "On the last Thursday of every month there is an art walk that takes place in galleries and shops during the winter months, and outdoors during warmer weather, with tables set up by local artisans and traveling merchants along the sidewalk."

4. The section on the Clown House left me wondering WTF is the Clown House.  Was it a band?  An actual house?  I see you are interested in it too so here ya go.  

5. The section on 'Architecture' has this one sentence: "Alberta street is home to the Northwestern Electric Company—Alberta Substation.".  This is where you probably lost it.  Me too man, me too.  Just so everyone knows, this is referring to a building that was the original home of Northwestern Electric Company.  Built in 1931 by Harry Hills of Hansen Construction Company.  It's currently being used as a pub.  It seems like they don't want to admit that it's a sports bar.

6. Great news y'all.  If you are coming to Alberta, just read this clearly presented bit about our public transportation options and you'll learn how to get around: "The street is served by TriMet Line 72 from Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd to NE 30th Ave. TriMet lines 6, 8, 17, and 70 cross Alberta Street at Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., NE 15th, NE 27th and NE 33rd Avenues, respectively. Bicycle boulevards parallel NE Alberta Street on NE Going St. and NE Skidmore St."

7.  FINALLY A BIG PAYOFF!!,  The 'In Popular Culture' section has something I can use for my blog.  "The song "Fat Alberta" by Portland performers MarchFourth Marching Band is about the gentrification of Alberta Street.".  Can you believe my luck?  A song about Gentrification in Alberta is perfect!  That is the topic of this post!

Yes, you just watched a video of a marching band play an all instrumental song that according to the wikipedia article is 'about Gentrification of Alberta Street'.  I'm sure you learned as much as I did about the topic from this.

I think I will take a stab at modifying this wikipedia page.  I've never contributed to a wikipedia article but I'm feeling confident that I can join the dozens of bozos that put this turd together.

Let me try to wrap up my blog post about Gentrification.  I think I covered sensitive racial issues like White Flight and Red-Lining so lets get into this Gentrification business...

The next generation of post-suburbia affluent families, having realized that places like Lake O are boring and kinda suck, looked longingly at the old walkable neighborhoods in the city.  Being more edgy and hip than their parents, they began to buy back into the cities taking advantage of the relatively good ‘deals’ on these great old undervalued homes.  These young hipster pioneers turned what had become predominately black and immigrant neighborhoods into ‘checkerboards’ (seriously, I'm not making this term up) of both white and black inhabitants.  This meant that over time, you had to be less and less edgy & hip to feel 'comfortable' moving to these neighborhoods, increasing the number of interested homebuyers.  Predictably, when you have a lot of buyers and not enough inventory, home values go up.  As home values go up, so does everything else like property taxes, cost of eating in the nearby restaurants and cost of shopping in the markets and retail stores.  Escalating home values can be beneficial for some of the pre-gentrification home owners, but it displaces renters, pushing them farther and farther from the city core.

I guess I'm just saying what others have pointed out more eloquently which is that White Flight begat Red-Lining which begat Gentrification.  Hopefully this isn't a big boring circle and starts to repeat itself.  Hopefully this is more of an evolutionary process where affluent buyers invent a technology where they shrink themselves and their money, allowing for more atomically dense areas, closer and closer to the city core, until the distance between the quarks (both ups and downs), fermions and bosons (both higgs & guage) nears zero and the whole thing explodes into one big(ish) bang.

 Watch this short documentaty style video produced by students at Grant High School to hear what it was like in Alberta before Gentrification took hold.  It's really well done.

However, if the young people that made the video meant to provide examples of how it's negatively impacted the neighborhood, then I missed that part.  After watching it, I felt like everyone they interviewed benefited from Gentrification.  The dumb person in me was like "Gentrification is awesome!".  The smarter person in me realized that the people that have been harmed have all been displaced and don't have agency or a voice to tell their stories.  They got forced out, moving them outside the range of reasonable public transportation options and they ended up having to leave the area all together.  In the process, families broke apart, friends were separated, people lost jobs, the meager sums that they may have been able to save were lost and they suffered.  But, we can't see them so we can pretend that didn't happen.

After you watch that, take a look at this TED Talk about Gentrification. New York City.

I'm an actor in this gentrification process.  I'll try not to be a bad one.