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Spike Lee on Gentrification of Inner-City

Spike Lee on Gentrification of Inner-City Spike Lee on Gentrification of Inner-City - Image By HipHopWired

Spike Lee was invited to speak at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York as part of the Black History program. During the lecture, the legendary film director interrupted a question that was centered on the good or bad in gentrification.

Before the question could be formed, Lee gave a passionate response to the effects of gentrification and the people who have become a part of those historic neighborhoods. Spike Lee's colorful response has been classified as ranting; however, beyond the profanity, the lecture revealed some of the emotion that becomes hidden away in the many pages of reports to justify the changes.

During the lecture, Spike Lee discussed the changes in the neighborhoods. "And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the south Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better?", Lee questioned the listening audience. The city moving to add additional trash days, the same trash that needed to be picked up all along, now made possible through gentrification.

What is gentrification? 

The process of gentrification seems easy enough on paper. On paper it is easy to glorify gentrification with the increased property values and higher income levels; however, those reports ignore the many people lost in the grandeur of what will benefit a few while displacing an entire culture.

In gentrifying Chicago neighborhoods, Property values have gone up 67% over a ten-year span from 2003 to 2013 (Chicago Tribune). These neighborhoods were not always wealthy areas. These changes can be seen by looking at Uptown's transformation into gentrified hotspot "North Halsted" which now contains 1799 new, high-dollar condos, or Logan Square that now has flower shops rather than bodegas. The people who lived in the gentrified neighborhoods have been displaced from their homes at a cost of two-thirds of Black and Latino residents moving out. In gentrifying Uptown, only 13% of the population was white in 1979 whereas by 2008 that number had increased to 41%, while Black and Latino populations dropped from 80% to 30% (Chicago Reader).

In New York City gentrification can be seen by looking at Crown Heights which has transformed from predominantly Jewish residents in 2000 to a majority African American neighborhood with a median income half that of the Brooklyn average in 2013 (Huffington Post). Although some may see this as gentrification bringing new life into a dying community, others see it as gentrification ruining communities. As property values rise in gentrified neighborhoods, rents go with them. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that nationally the average rent increased from $939 in 2000 to $1,013 in 2012. In gentrifying areas such as Manhattan and Brooklyn, the price per square foot is almost double what it would be in non-gentrified areas (New York Post).

In gentrifying census tracts around America households making more than 40 times the local median earn more of a share of income while the poorest residents declined by 3 percent over 10 years (City Lab). Families or individuals without homes are not included in these statistics. According to Adam Reich of Columbia University's Urban Planning department "Housing prices don't increase overnight; they change very slowly for a long time and then very quickly for a short time. The gentrification process can take decades to occur, thus displacement is hard to materialize as well." In other words gentrifying neighborhoods have been gentrified long before the media started reporting about it.

In San Francisco's gentrifying Bay Area there has been a 310% increase in evictions since 2011 as reported by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project which documented 1,716 eviction notices for 32-unit buildings or more from January of 2013 (Mercury News).

When looking at these numbers it should not be surprising that gentrification increases income inequality rather than decreases it as seen in a Columbia University study that found "gentrification remains essentially a zero-sum game" where gentrification is not about leveling the playing field, but rather making money off of it.

 Who Benefits From gentrification?

What it boils down to is that gentrification does not benefit everyone other than, those who can afford higher prices for property or rent (the gentrifiers). Communities are being priced out of their neighborhoods because they cannot keep up with the income levels being set.  


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Sabrina Daniels
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