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Entries in Politics (2)


Gentrification Isn't the Problem

By Marlin D. Paschal


A couple of days ago a friend and fellow Pickaninny posted an article on Facebook titled The Hidden Systems at Work Behind Gentrification. The author of the article argued gentrification is not the random migration of latte drinking professionals in search of trendy urban lofts, but a corporate conspiracy to displace the poor and change the urban landscape into a soulless enclave of high-priced real estate. After reading the article, I suspect the musings of this author are consistent with the criticisms of both amateur and professional nostalgist. Unfortunately, I believe much of the criticism is levied by folks that are more concerned with reminiscing about the past than helping disadvantaged citizens create a viable future.


A couple of really good articles were published over the last couple of years challenging the conventional wisdom around gentrification – one in the Atlantic and the other in Slate. Both articles suggest the occurrence of gentrification is rare and its negative impacts overblown. The authors further argue the phenomenon we associate with displacing low income residence is largely relegated to the so called super cities like New York, Seattle and San Francisco. Affordable housing for everyone (particularly for the working class) is a problem in super cities, but that has largely to do with the rapidity of rental price increases – which is an exception rather than the rule for most parts of America.  

The contemporary literature and my own observations suggest the counterintuitist are right – especially concerning the plight of poor black communities. If poor black communities are transformed at all – it is usually via an influx of Hispanics or the arrival of other displaced immigrants. Put another way, recent college graduates, yuppies, entrepreneurs, and young bohemians are NOT flooding into the hood, until the hood has already been terraformed by other industrious pioneers. This is certainly true across the rustbelt and many areas in the Deep South.

I grew up in the East St. Louis area, which is an exurb of St. Louis on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. East St. Louis is predominantly black, very poor, and it is littered with cheap real estate. But it isn’t under any imminent threat of gentrification, despite its rather attractive river front location and proximity to St. Louis. In truth, I believe many of the residents in East St. Louis and the surrounding area would welcome many of the changes a gentrified community might offer, such as safety and sustainable economic growth. Instead, I think the real concern with locals is how do you bring the positive values associated with gentrification without driving up real estate prices and radically changing the feel of the community. Quite frankly, change is unavoidable - as the community’s outlook improves it will inevitably become a more desirable place to live. Desirability attracts new people and new people change the fabric of the community (and raise the price to live there).


Some change, like soulless commercialization (i.e. mom and pop killing superstores, ugly strip malls, etc.), is counterproductive, but other forms of change bring much needed progress (i.e., competitive schools, art houses, local markets, etc.). The primary problem with inner city communities (like East St. Louis) is the prevalence of large concentrations of urban poor. The reasons these pockets exist is partially due to a history of racism and overt discrimination, but that is not a good reason to curtail the flow of gentrifiers. Whatever the case, the challenge for poor predominantly black urban enclaves is attracting people who are more concerned with creating a community than making a quick buck.


And therein lies the problem. Who are these people and how do you draw them in? Are we talking about the influx of black hipsters, colored yuppies, or maybe black tycoons like Oprah and Jay Z? I’m not exactly sure what the new arrivals might look like, but I do not think the solution rest with simply attacking gentrification. Instead, it starts with asking what do we want these communities to look like and who will be there to make it happen?


I think this means advocating for a gentrification that cultivates a collective sense of vision amongst the residence in a community and attracts the right kind of creative souls to the places that need them the most. As to the latter point, I think gentrification would be much less of a concern if the gentrifiers were black people returning to restore predominately black communities and preserve artifacts that should matter to black people. That’s not what usually happens, but it is very powerful when it does (see NYT article of 4 black artist saving Nina Simone’s birth home). Simply put, gentrification isn’t the problem, but it can become one if it's reduced to a political buzzword. The point of this article is to make some effort to think beyond the buzz and more about the politics.       


The Real Problem For Liberals 

 By Marlin D. Paschal

Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times wrote an article last week titled Are Liberals Helping Trump? She suggests the current anti-Trump fervor on the left may be a double-edged sword. On one side, it serves as an energizing force for the liberal base. On the other, it is creating an alienating effect on right-leaning voters who may be repulsed by Trump’s antics, but also turned off by the leftist voices opposing him. The author raises an interesting point, and there may be some truth to her premise. However, I think the larger problem for liberals has less to do with assuaging the hurt feelings of disaffected Trump supporters, but creating a liberal strategy that generates real support.  

According to Gallup, Trump has a 40 percent approval rating versus a 55 percent disapproval rate with the American public at large (The Pew Research largely mirrors Gallup’s results). However according to Rasmussen, which looks solely at likely voters, Trump’s approval rating is at 55 percent versus a 45 percent disapproval rating. Assuming both sets of polling data are generally accurate — it suggests most Americans have significant misgivings about the messenger, but not enough to actually change the message.

Another curious metric shows that more voting Americans support Trump’s Muslim-unfriendly travel ban and his proposed anti-Mexican wall than oppose them. Again, the level of opposition is strong amongst Americans in general, but when you examine the pool of likely and registered voters – Trump has a meaningful reservoir of popular support.

Lastly, Trump received more electoral votes than Hillary Clinton last November, despite her significant institutional advantages. The typical narrative on the left is Trump won because of a powerful mix of sexist opposition to Clinton and effective racist messaging by Trump. Assuming this is at least partially true, that hardly explains why Republicans have control of the senate, the house, and most governor mansions and statehouses throughout the country.

Protest can be useful, but Trump's rise and the preeminence of the GOP will not be undone by protesting alone. More to the point, the Democratic Party is a big tent — filled with many diverse groups such as the LGBT community, environmentalist, feminist, labor unions, immigrants, social welfare advocates, and various hyphenated racial and ethnic groups. The Republican Party is, for the most part, racially homogenous, and dominated by four interest groups: the big business oligarchs, evangelicals, foreign policy hawks, and fiscal conservatives. In a world of winner take all adversarial politics — voting Republican makes more sense than voting Democrat, if you identify as a Republican — even if your standard bearer is a narcissistic buffoon.

As a general rule, there are not enough Americans that naturally identify with the four dominant interest groups of the Republican Party. As such, the GOP has had to expand its appeal and influence over the group of voters known as the “white working class.” This is a group that doesn’t fit neatly within the “identity-centric” collective of the Democratic Party. Nor is there much of a place for them in the blue-blooded top-down regime of the Republican Party. Republicans, however, have been able to orchestrate a highly successful information campaign aligning the ambitions of the “white working class” voter with the prerogatives and racial identity of the party’s oligarchs (they are mostly white too).

For instance, if I am a coal miner, a fracker, or someone who just wants a job, deregulation and lower taxes are concepts that sound good to me. So even if I don’t understand the nuances of EPA regulations and the tax code, I do understand the cost of government oversight and higher taxes will have to be paid by someone. Republicans have excelled by effectively alleging those cost have been placed on the back of the American worker.

“Make America Great Again,” simply reasserts that central premise and offers a return to Reagan Era trickle-down economics through tax cuts, eliminating job-killing regulations, and increasing military spending. These things are all good for business — and what’s good for business is also good for the so-called white working class. This is a winning formula that has fueled Republican gains across the nation and propelled Mr. Trump to the White House.

In every sense of the word, Donald Trump’s faux populist rebellion is the symptom of a larger malady, which stems from a lack of strategy on the left and the illusion of moral clarity masquerading on the right. Unfortunately, much of the American public has been captured by the surreal spectacle of Trump’s siren call rather than acknowledging and countering the flawed vision he represents.

In truth — America is already great, but liberals routinely critique that greatness without offering a more compelling narrative to believe in. Instead, liberals should imagine a strategy that aims to rebuild America by aggressively connecting it to the rest of the world using every instrument of national power (i.e. diplomacy, information, military, and economy). I don’t think liberals should do this to attract fence-sitters on the right, but to provide a unifying sense of purpose on the left.

Rather than building walls between the U.S. and Mexico, let’s build high speed rail from Cleveland to Mexico City and from there to Lima. Instead of drill baby drill, let’s create a path to total energy independence that doubles down on alternative energy while building a 21st century workforce in the process. Instead of protesting against police brutality, advocate for urban renewal efforts built on demilitarizing all civilian police forces and restoring local economies.  

In the end, Donald Trump is mostly a sideshow who will likely collapse under the weight of his own hubris. And when that happens, Liberals will need more than righteous indignation to galvanize the country and build something from the ruins inevitably left behind. The real problem for liberals is not just railing against the things you don't like, but creating a better politics in the process.