Conducting a conversation on gentrification

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By Starlett Quarles

Contributing Columnist

Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to guest host the “Front Page,” KJLH’s early morning talk show. And since I would be hosting for the entire week, I decided to produce a five-part series entitled, “Conversations for a Generation;” with the goal of this series being dedicated to addressing an array of topics that I felt were relevant to my peers of Gen Xers, those born between the mid 60s and early 80s.

Of particular note was the show entitled, “Let’s Talk About Gentrification;” which addressed two different schools of thought around the process. On one hand, some believe that gentrification is the systemic process of displacing lower income families and small businesses with a more middle class and affluent demographic. Others believe that we are gentrifying our own communities by consciously and purposefully not selling our homes to other Black buyers.

My guests on that show included community activist Damien Goodmon, executive director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, and real estate broker Odest Riley Jr., president and CEO of WLM Financial. Here is a snippet of this very passionate conversation on gentrification.

SQ: How do you define gentrification? What is your personal school of thought on the process?

DG: [I] ascribe to the LA Tenants Union’s definition, which is basically that gentrification is the displacement and replacement of the poor for profit. [And] I want to just say that it’s not natural. It’s man-made. [Just] as slavery was man-made, it can be un-made.

[Gentrification] roots in colonialism. It’s white supremacy. It disrupts family ties. It uproots communities. It erases [the] cultural heritage of working-class families in communities of color. And it’s got a lot of code words like urban renewal, revitalization, vitality and they all circulate around the accumulation of wealth through dispossessing the poor from their housing and community.

ORJ: I define gentrification as the process of taking property that has been underused and injecting money into it to make a profit. … If we go back to some of the first neighborhoods that were gentrified, you look at Soho in New York; you look [locally at] how Venice has changed, and [how] Inglewood is starting to change.

[And] what you end up with is businesses or developers who realize that they can get land in certain community for a price that’s much cheaper because that community does not value its land. And the problem that I run in to, as a young man born and raised in Inglewood, you see the changes [starting] to happen; … [and] that community is a community that at some point the people [did] not take a lot of pride in.

[They didn’t say,] “Hey, I really want to have ownership here … [or] … make change here.” It’s more like, “Hey, I want to get up [and] move out of here.” As I was when I was younger,  my goal was to get out of Inglewood.

SQ: Why was your goal to get out?

ORJ: Because at the time [Inglewood] was rough and tough, and it didn’t seem like it had a lot of opportunity for a young black man. But no one was teaching me that, ‘You know what? Instead of getting out, you should be going to school, getting your money up, and then coming back here and investing in this area; because right now this land is cheap. You can do anything you want here if you choose to.’

But instead, I was taught, ‘Hey, move on up to Beverly Hills … move to Palisades, move to the Valley. Move somewhere where you’re going to be safe.’ Instead of saying, ‘Hey you can navigate this area because you are safe here; because everyone knows you.’ Buy things. Bring your business here. Do all those things and then make sure you can’t be gentrified out by finding other liked-minded people in that community that can make those changes.

SQ: Damien, in your opinion, what systemic practices are being used today to gentrify our communities?

DG: Well, they do still use eminent domain. The Metro project that goes through the Crenshaw District and Inglewood is one of the more recent examples. … You can [also] still use it for public infrastructure, …[and] can actually use eminent domain for the … enrichment of just basic retail and commercial operations; private operations, not just public.

… One of the first things we try and get people to understand is that gentrification is not a bunch of individual decisions. I heard Odest say we don’t value our community. No. It’s not that we don’t value our communities.

We didn’t make a decision to invest billions of dollars in public infrastructure that send a signal to the global real estate market that you should invest in the Crenshaw and Inglewood communities.

We didn’t make a decision to bring in multi-billion dollar stadium — backed by multiple billionaires; two of the richest families in America — into Inglewood. [And] we didn’t make the decision to ultimately redline our communities and deny us supermarkets that provided quality produce and organic foods. Those are all decisions that are made by people who don’t look like [us].

So let’s understand this in general, just as we have had this conversation and this reckoning about ‘anti-black racism’ as a systemic conversation in the wake of the George Floyd uprisings, [we need] to have a systemic conversation as it relates to gentrification; because we are [currently] operating under the threat of white supremacy and colonization in its rawest form.

SQ: OK. Fair enough.

So, what do you think? When it comes to communities of color, who’s gentrifying who?

Starlett Quarles is a Gen X Advocate, public speaker and host of the internet TV Talk Show, “The Dialogue with Starlett Quarles.” For more, please visit www.TheDialogueLA.com.