You’re driving down Union in a “bad part of town” and see a Fresh Market. Who could be mad? Everybody loves Fresh Market.
Nice houses in a “bad part of town.” Shops and businesses spring up out of nowhere. You’ve definitely seen it. You might live in it. But regardless you’ve likely heard of the term gentrification.
Gentrification, by definition, is the process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area accompanied by an influx of affluent people that often results in the displacement of earlier, poorer residents. Well, when presented like this, it sounds so clearly wrong, but gentrification presents itself in a way so that the positives outweigh the negatives every time.
In Memphis we see gentrification, or what some people call urban revitalization, in places like Harbortown, Overton Square, Broad Street and Highland. The process of gentrification usually drives lower-income renters out of that area due to increasing rent and property tax. So, with gentrification, Memphis has gained cool artsy spots to hang out, but the problem is that no improvement happens in minority communities. According to WMC Action News, new data has found that Memphis is the poorest metropolitan city in America.
Memphis is trying to take steps in the right direction by implementing projects and recruiting companies to start branches in the city. This is a positive course of action that city officials are taking by utilizing resources that are completely abandoned to create a more positive impact without the negative effects on low-income citizens. Crosstown Concourse was just an old Sears building. Now it has eateries, gyms, community improvement organizations, a church, an art bar, apartments and even a high school. I feel like this direct repurposing approach is less invasive to communities and the people previously living in them. Additionally, in an effort to bring more researchers and medical practitioners to Memphis, the area surrounding St. Jude has become renovated and aesthetically attractive.
The way I see it, the positives of gentrification and urbanization projects are economic growth, aesthetic improvements, and community building. The negatives are the exodus of lower income people, cultural disappearance, and changing Memphis’ roots. So in this case does the good outweigh the bad?
While gentrification in America is nothing new, I see it as a symptom of a bigger issue. While it’s easy to renovate a few buildings and build high rises for a very small portion of the populace who have always been privileged, the same effort should be put toward all areas of the city, especially the ones that are still impoverished.
Memphis is starting to gentrify like Nashville and Atlanta. Our city is just moving at a slower rate. The area south of downtown and around Beale Street continues to be developed and redeveloped. It is probably the area that has undergone the most gentrification in the past 15-20 years in Memphis. It’s also the area with the closest ties to Memphis’ original culture.“Smaller developments over a longer period of time is the best way to deter rapid changes to the attributes of a location” explained Matt Seltzer, an architect at Archimania, a Memphis-based architecture company.
It’s clear that others who care about the culture and historic characteristics of our city see the pros and cons of gentrification. Thoughtful approaches to gentrification can help improve our city without marginalizing people or losing culture, but a greater focus need to be put on the eradication of poverty.
Seltzer affirmed that “understanding the history and economic context of a project location is as important as understanding the people and community dynamic.”
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