Three Signs That Gentrification Is Coming To Your Neighborhood

Long-term residents reflect on losing their communities to rising rents and cultural whitewashing

09.22.2017•5:00 PM
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

When she returned one evening from what I thought was a routine dog walk around the neighborhood, my partner was nearly in tears. Perplexed and concerned, I probed for an answer.

She explained the sinking feeling of watching her hometown of Oakland, California, become unrecognizable: The urban farm and playground that recently popped up on Peralta Street had not a person of color in sight. Tent encampments with dozens of newly shelterless black people sprawled out beneath freeway overpasses. White neighbors shot quizzical or fearful looks as she passed. Walking the dog — a practice that once brought her joy and rejuvenation — now left her feeling deflated, angry and seemingly powerless. Her home, her community, had vanished. It had all been building up over the past few years, and in those moments as she walked, it became too much to take.

A news search of “gentrification” will land you with thousands of perspectives both for and against. Though the debate has emerged most vocally in the past several years, for residents born and raised in major cities, the ongoing loss of home is felt deeply.

“It is a feeling of powerlessness,” says Bie Aweh, who was raised in the Roxbury and Brighton neighborhoods of Boston. “You’re already vulnerable because of poverty, and it makes you feel like you have no power because capitalism talks the loudest.”

While many in support of urban renewal and development cite decreased crime rates and increased revenue as benefits, long-term residents from coast to coast echo concerns about the impact of gentrification on historically poor, predominantly of color neighborhoods.

Each of the people I spoke to were raised in historically black, poor communities now experiencing continued or more recent waves of gentrification. Noni Galloway, of Oakland, defines gentrification as, “when an environment or culture is taken over or redefined by another culture.”

On a surface level, the changes that come with gentrification are physical — new beer gardens, condominiums and bike lanes — and happen seemingly overnight. Many residents are left to grapple with what, where and whom to call “home.”

1. Shifts in demographics: ‘White people jogging was the first sign.’
When I first moved to Berkeley as a teenager in the early oughts, my peers had endless warnings for me about the neighboring city of Oakland. People living outside of Oakland, many of them white and/or middle to upper class, generalized it as “sketch,” “dangerous” and “crime-infested.”

The neighborhoods they cautioned me against visiting are now, over 10 years later, spaces where young professionals are flocking to, often describing them as “up-and-coming.”

When asked to reflect on the first signs of gentrification they saw in their cities, three of four interviewees specifically mentioned “white people jogging,” especially in areas they previously would not have set foot in. The influx of white and middle-class newcomers on its own is not the issue; rather the loss of culture and diversity that comes when a city’s long-term inhabitants can no longer afford to stay.

“We used to be a Mecca for black home ownership. Now reports that thousands of illegal foreclosures take place in Wayne County,” said Will, an activist from Detroit. “The discussion of so-called ‘improvement’ should not be separated from the misery being created for tens of thousands of Detroiters.”

Much of the conversation in support of gentrification is coded in a racist and classist belief system that blames the residents themselves for crime rates, rather than lawmakers, local politicians and complicit newcomers who are disinvested from solving the causes of poverty.

The increase of white and/or middle-class new residents to traditionally poor neighborhoods tends to follow or reflect changes in infrastructure, another highly discussed symptom of gentrification.

2. Shifts in infrastructure: ‘Government housing began to disappear.’
“Government housing began to disappear and the projects were being torn down,” said Crystal Lay, of Chicago. “People were being displaced to other areas and put in these quickly built homes.”

The shifts that happen to city landscapes undergoing gentrification are more than physical, they are symbolic of efforts to “improve” an area for incoming residents.

For those who have called these cities home since childhood, there are some strange contradictions: new bike lanes and rent-a-bike programs on streets riddled with potholes; sleek, market-rate apartments popping up beside historic Victorians; urban gardens and beautification in prior dumping grounds.

Oakland’s Noni Galloway summarizes the complex feelings that arise from witnessing these shifts overtime: “I have mixed emotions because … there were much-needed upgrades to the area that I feel didn’t happen until the gentrification started,” she said. “But it hurts to see my old neighborhood turn into the hot spot for someone else to enjoy.”

Another undeniable impact of the skyrocketing housing market is the increase in individuals without shelter, some of them former residents who have been recently evicted. In Oakland, homelessness increased by over 25%, and complaints went up by 600% between 2011 and 2016.

When developers are allowed to build housing starting at $3,000 a month in a neighborhood with a median family income of $35,000, what is being improved? Where can a family call home after their house becomes unrecognizable and unaffordable? What is the cost of gentrification? And who pays?
“Whites and the rich benefit the most,” said Crystal Lay. “I believe poor people and people of color lose. I think any mom-and-pop businesses also lose their customer base and those familiar faces.”

3. Shifts in safety measures: ‘Police make areas safer for suburbanites.’
“We saw blue lights go up in high-crime areas; it was like a sign for people to stay out of those areas. I feel like it was the early 2000s when they began,” said Lay.

Creating the perceived sense of safety associated with suburban areas, including policing, is part of what facilitates the process of demographic changes in major cities.

Sites such as Nextdoor and SeeClickFix encourage residents to report various issues, from car break-ins to graffiti, for resolution. These methods rely heavily on collaboration with law enforcement and public works officials, but also limit community members’ ability to resolve and express concerns together.
The desire to live in an environment that is free of violence, building decay and trash is obviously not unreasonable. I am certain that many long-term residents in urban areas have long wanted to see these changes. The issue is that local governments only invest in these changes when the demographics shift, and that the strategies of “safety” fit the new demographic as well.

The presence of law enforcement does not equal safety in many inner cities, but in urban environments undergoing gentrification, it is common to witness increased policing.

Not only does gentrification push residents out of their homes, it can make them feel unwelcome, or even feared, on their own streets. “

I’m going to have a shirt made,” my partner said, once again returning from walking the dogs, “that says, ‘I’m not a criminal, I’m just from here.’”
Although interview participants overall were not optimistic about the possibility of stopping gentrification, they did have words, advice and requests for new residents.

“Are you moving into the community with the intentions of contributing to the existing culture, by supporting our businesses, or are you coming to disrupt it?” asked Bie Aweh of Boston. “If the answer is disrupt, then please don’t move here.”

“Consider the history of the neighborhood; understand the relationships that are among the neighbors,” Oakland’s Galloway concluded.



First look: Oakland project from Texas developer would add 225 units in Auto Row


First look: Oakland project from Texas developer would add 225 units in Auto Row
Feb 19, 2016, 2:42pm PST Updated Feb 19, 2016, 2:50pm PST
INDUSTRIES & TAGS Commercial Real Estate, Residential Real Estate, Construction, East Bay

Roland Li, Reporter
San Francisco Business Times

The Hanover Company is moving forward with a new 225-unit residential building in Oakland’s hot Broadway-Valdez area, even as opponents continue to fight another project by the same developer across the street.

Oakland’s planning department will hold public hearings in the coming months on the Hanover Co.’s proposed seven-story project at 2400 Valdez St. The Houston, Texas-based developer also plans 23,000 square feet of retail, which is consistent with the city’s push for more shopping destinations in the area, which has historically been an Auto Row.

The project would replace a narrow parking lot that currently spans 24th to 27th streets. The site is just west of another large housing proposal on the same block by Holland Partner Group on what is currently an Acura dealership.
The developer didn’t immediately return requests for comment. TCA Architects is designing the project.

City planning staff stated in a report released this week that the project is a “well thought design concept” and released the project’s first renderings. But the staff had some design concerns regarding the project’s facade on 27th Street and recommended that the city planning’s Design Review Committee study the project further.

The Hanover Co. also received approval from the city’s planning commission in January for 256 units at 2630 Broadway, a site a block away from the proposal at 2400 Valdez St. But construction of the project would require demolition of the historic Biff’s coffee shop, which has been vacant for years and would require significant renovations. Local preservationists have filed an appeal against the approvals that will require the project to go to a vote by the city council, possibly in April.

Opponents argue that the Hanover Co. can save the historic building and build a taller tower that only occupies part of the parcel. “There is actually plenty of room for lots of housing on the property as well as great commercial space along Broadway and keeping Biff’s,” said Leal Charonnat, an architect and preservationist who is one of the opponents filing an appeal.
But the Hanover Co. has stated that repairing the historic building would be too expensive.

It’s the second time in the last month that opponents have filed appeals against newly approved projects. Last week, community groups and neighbors also appealed the approval of a 126-unit Oakland tower at 250 14th St. in part because they want the developer to pay for the replacement of a mural that would be blocked by construction of the project.

Roland Li covers real estate and economic development

Source: San Francisco Business Times

Racial Profiling Via

The strange glances are starting to become more frequent. James Fisher, a fourteen-year-old freshman at Oakland Charter High School, has noticed that as he gets older, more people on the street eye him with suspicious or fearful stares. “Some of them just look at me, and then they’ll look away,” he said. “Or sometimes, I go into stores, and they look at me like they think I’m going to do something bad.”


James is a Black teenager who is soft-spoken and looks about three years older than his actual age. On a recent afternoon last month, I chatted with him and Emma, his thirteen-year-old sister, at their house in the Upper Dimond neighborhood in the Oakland hills. The two siblings told me about their first weeks of high school and how they have enjoyed the freedom at times to walk around Oakland’s Chinatown district without their parents.

But they never walk around their own neighborhood alone.

The tree-lined residential street of large single-family homes where the Fishers live more closely resembles suburbia than a densely populated city. Positioned at the top of a steep hill near Dimond Canyon Park, their house feels worlds away from the busy urban bustle of MacArthur Boulevard and the Fruitvale district just to the southwest. On the surface, their block looks like an ideal place to raise kids — safe, family-friendly, and quiet. Although their individual street is very diverse — with about ten Black or mixed-race kids now living nearby — white residents are by far the largest racial group in the surrounding area. And it’s in this neighborhood, perhaps more so than any other part of Oakland, that James feels most like a target for the uncomfortable glances that are becoming increasingly common in his life.

Emma and James Fisher don’t walk around the Upper Dimond due to concerns about racial profiling.

But he and his parents are not just worried about hurtful stares from neighbors or passersby. Over the last two years, their neighborhood has become overrun with racial profiling — but not by police, rather by mostly white residents incorrectly assuming that people of color who are walking, driving, hanging out, or living in the neighborhood are criminal suspects. These residents often don’t recognize that they may have long held racial prejudices or unconscious biases, but recently, they’ve been able to instantly broadcast their unsubstantiated suspicions to thousands of their neighbors with the click of a mouse., a website that bills itself as the “private social network for neighborhoods,” offers a free web platform on which members can blast a wide variety of messages to people who live in their immediate neighborhood. A San Francisco-based company founded in 2010, Nextdoor’s user-friendly site has exploded in popularity over the last two years in Oakland. As of this fall, a total of 176 Oakland neighborhoods have Nextdoor groups — and 20 percent of all households in the city use the site, according to the company.

On Nextdoor, people give away free furniture or fruit from their backyards. Users reunite lost dogs with their owners. Members organize community meetings and share tips about babysitters and plumbers. But under the “Crime and Safety” section of the site, the tone is much less neighborly. There, residents frequently post unsubstantiated “suspicious activity” warnings that result in calls to the police on Black citizens who have done nothing wrong. In recent months, people from across the city have shared with me Nextdoor posts labeling Black people as suspects simply for walking down the street, driving a car, or knocking on a door. Users have suggested that Black salesmen and mail carriers may be burglars. One Nextdoor member posted a photo of a young Black boy who failed to pick up dog poop and suggested that his neighbors call the police on him.

White residents have also used Nextdoor to complain and organize calls to police about Black residents being too noisy in public parks and bars — raising concerns that the site amplifies the harmful impacts of gentrification. On Nextdoor and other online neighborhood groups — including Facebook pages and Yahoo and Google listservs — residents have called Black and Latino men suspicious for being near bus stops, standing in “shadows,” making U-turns, and hanging around outside coffee shops. Residents frequently warn each other to be on the look out for suspects with little more description than “Black” and “wearing a hoodie.”

“These posts cast such a wide net on our young Black men,” said Shikira Porter, an Upper Dimond resident, who is Black. “You start seeing this over and over again, and you understand quickly that, oh, it’s the Black body that they’re afraid of.”

In some Nextdoor groups, when people ask their neighbors to think twice before labeling someone suspicious, other users attack them for playing the “race card” and being the “political correctness police.” Some groups have even actively silenced and banned the few vocal voices of color speaking up on the websites, according to records that I reviewed.

This sometimes toxic virtual environment has real-world impacts. Residents encourage each other to call police, share tips on how to reach law enforcement, and sometimes even alert cops and security guards about suspicious activity they’ve only read secondhand from other commenters. I spoke to longtime Oaklanders who say the profiling is getting worse, noting that they have recently had neighbors question them on their block or in their own driveway — suspicious of whether they might be up to no good. People of color described stories of white residents running away from them, screaming at them to leave a shared garden space, and calling police on young children in their own home. In some areas, the profiling is further exacerbated by the growing presence of private patrol officers whom residents have hired to guard the streets.

Even high-ranking officials with OPD, which has a formal partnership with Nextdoor, have admitted that the department is sometimes forced to respond to baseless suspicions about residents of color — the kind of profiling that can go unchecked in online groups. “If … they’re all feeding off of the same bias, then that could be harmful,” said OPD Assistant Chief Paul Figueroa. He later added, “Fear can really drive the application of bias.”

Now, a group of Oakland residents calling themselves Neighbors for Racial Justice is trying to fight back against the rampant profiling online and in their neighborhoods. But Nextdoor officials and the white residents who control and dominate the online groups do not appear to be taking their concerns seriously or willing to make substantive changes.

And as long as the profiling and prejudiced online posts persist, Mitsu Fisher, the father of James and Emma, is not letting his kids play outside or walk the streets of their own neighborhood without supervision. Mitsu made that an official policy in February 2014 after a patrol officer in the Oakmore neighborhood — who was working for a private security company and was not supposed to be armed — chased and shot a Black teenage boy suspected of committing a burglary, according to police. The fact that a private guard shot a young suspect was upsetting enough to Mitsu, but it was the response from his neighbors online that led him to truly fear for his own kids’ safety…


Source: Please click for the full text at East Bay Express

Whites who gentrified Oakland are calling the police on innocent Black residents

Photo credit: City of Oakland Facebook page

East Oakland is one of the last locations in the Bay Area with reasonable prices for housing. The area, which is historically Black, is being gentrified by White residents. But like most cases of gentrification, the new White residents are viewing the existing Black residents as menaces to the neighborhood.

According to reports by East Bay Express, Whites are calling the police on innocent Blacks in Oakland at an alarming rate. Taking data from the website, Whites have called the police on Blacks for walking down the street, knocking on a door, and not picking up dog poop. The White residents have also called the police on Black salesmen and postal workers who were delivering items. White residents have also hired private officers to patrol the neighborhood.

Members of the Oakland Police Department have even shared that they are being forced to respond to baseless 911 calls. Police currently get over 700 calls per month on suspicious vehicles and people every month.

The response by White residents proves how racist attitudes are an essential part of the gentrification of Black neighborhoods. Along with the racial profiling, the gentrification has allowed some property owners to increase rent by as much as 120 percent due to a rise in value. It has forced some Black residents who can’t afford the increases to move.

The reverse of White flight is occurring across America. As a result, the racist biases will continue until there are legal repercussions for racial profiling by citizens.