Gentrification is a term used to describe the displacement of working-class folks and people of color from their communities by more affluent persons moving into existing housing and new developments driving the prices of the market up and making it impossible for most long-time residents and business owners to remain in the neighborhoods they live due to increasing costs of real estate. This increase in the cost of housing paves the way for fragmenting the social and economic fabric of communities affected by capitalism’s obsession with the profits of surplus value and with little to no regard for the health and well-being of our people immersed in the reality of today’s neoliberal urban life.
The term gentrification in its current context dates back to 1964, when British sociologist Ruth Glass used it to talk about the flooding of middle class people into working class, urban neighborhoods in London. In modern U.S. times, gentrification is a phenomenon which took flight in most urban areas in the early ’90s as working class communities and communities of color were historically excluded from any opportunities to succeed, marginalized by the city’s urban planning and renewal projects, and targeted and criminalized by police. Gentrification in our communities is perpetrated mostly by white people with economic power who, after many years of rejecting the inner city in exchange for suburban life, decide to return, drawn by all the amenities and possibilities the city has to offer in an effort to recolonize the same neighborhoods left behind decades ago for working class and people of color to live in poverty. However, gentrification, or bourgeoisification, is not new. It is an unavoidable result of capitalism and its constant search for new markets and profit. Capitalists always seize possibilities for economic growth through the exploitation of working people and the extraction of our resource. In this case, the takeover of our underdevelopment and marginalized communities to be turned into highly desirable neighborhoods for the consumption and lifestyle of the privileged who can afford the new city.
Defenders of gentrification point to the fact that development makes neighborhoods better and brings progress, yet they fail to recognize the effects that displacement has on the health and well-being of folks already struggling with the ravages of neoliberal, capitalist exploitation in their families and communities. As working class people who organize for liberation, we’re either working communities dealing with under development and repression by the State and financed capital, or face forced displacement and gentrification by the same institutions who uphold this patriarchal, heteronormative, white supremacist, capitalist system. Yet whenever we leave these oppressive conditions, we also have the possibilities of fighting, resisting, and organizing to struggle for a better world.
Marxist professor David Harvey speaks to the important of these struggles in our communities in the context of Henri Lefebvre’s concept of the right to the city, and I quote, “The democratization of the right to a city and the construction of a broad social movement to enforce its will, it’s imperative if the dispossessed are to take back control of the city from which they have for so long been excluded, and if new modes of controlling capital surpluses as they work through urbanization processes are to be instituted. Lefebvre was right to insist that the revolution has to be urban in the broadest sense of the term or nothing at all.” End of quote.