It’s not cool to use the G-word. And yet, that may be what’s happening in Detroit.
“Gentrification is a slippery and divisive word, vilified by many for the displacement of the poor, the influx of speculative investors, the proliferation of chain stores, the destruction of neighborhood authenticity,” writes Oliver Wainwright in this 2016 Guardian piece about global gentrification.
While it’s exciting to see a boarded-up building reflect the light of the sun with new windows and new tenants, it might also mean that long-time city-lovers who weathered the ups and the deep downs of urban decay are scuttled away to still-poor neighborhoods while the investors give a facelift to city blocks.
Articles like this one in Bridge Magazine and this one in Huffington Post present compelling perspectives on why Detroit’s comeback has a dark side, too. The story of Detroiters who stood by this ailing city and remain themselves in poverty in quiet corners of a city becoming populated by high-priced coffee shops and soaring commercial and residential rents.
The word gentrification was used more than half a century ago by British sociologist Ruth Glass. She was talking about changes to north London, but the concept depicts how cities have evolved for a long, long time.
Crime diminishes. Artists move in. Startups and young families claim formerly avoided neighborhoods. Schools improve. Children kick their legs on swings in city parks, and hipsters bike to work in bona fide bike lanes. Breweries open their doors.
However you spin it, and whatever word you use, Detroit is experiencing a rejuvenation. A comeback. A rebirth. If that’s gentrification, with all its warts and holes, so be it. Let’s just find another word for the wave we’re riding in the Motor City today.