The Architectural Book Club (ABC) was at it again last week. Slamming wine and craft beers while chatting about our latest read: There Goes the 'Hood: View of Gentrification from the Ground Up by Lance Freeman.
The group had mixed reviews on the book; however, it definitely spurred a great conversation about gentrification in Charleston.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines gentrification as the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.
Gentrification is a complex issue. A double-edged sword. There are positive effects, as well as, negative consequences.
In There Goes the 'Hood, Freeman investigates this complex issue and provides a unique perspective. 'From The Ground Up' refers to Freeman's research strategy of interviewing residents of two New York City neighborhoods: Harlem and Clinton Hill. These neighborhoods have undergone gentrification and the people interviewed are the indigenous residents being gentrified by the influx of middle and upper class people to their neighborhoods.
Freeman's ultimate goal is to determine how exactly gentrification affects the residents.
I think you'll be surprised by some of the dialogue as the book challenges various theories of gentrification.
What about my 'Hood?
This book made me think a lot about my own neighborhood. I live in the Elliotborough/Cannonborough neighborhood of Charleston, SC. My hood is undergoing gentrification and one can make an argument that it is almost completely gentrified.
When I first moved to Charleston in 2008 I briefly lived with my brother in this neighborhood before finding a place for Danielle and I to live on the other side of town. I remember walking down Bogard Street and thinking......"man this is a sketchy area." I even considered renting a house on Bogard Street and ultimately decided that the street was not safe for Danielle.
Ironically 5 1/2 years later, I purchased a house on that same sketchy street, 3 doors down from the house I originally considered renting. Bogard Street had changed and in the 2 1/2 years we have lived here the changes have continued.
And here is the struggle. Most of these changes have been positive. Old houses have been fixed up. Restaurants, cafes and small retail have moved in. Crime has gone down. And it has quickly become the hippest neighborhood in Charleston.
But the negative...many folks of lesser means have been forced out. The African American population of this neighborhood has dwindled. Once primarily African American, the ratio has done a complete flip.
I am happy about the improvements and with the growing equity in my home, but am sorry about affordability and the folks that have been forced out.
It is truly a double-edge sword.
Final Wrap Up
I had hoped that There Goes the 'Hood would have been a little more enlightening. I guess I was looking for some sort of secret weapon that would make gentrification positive for everybody. Freeman's book provided some very unique insights from the local population and for that Freeman should be commended.
However, I still wish there were more solutions.
This book sparked a great conversation at the Book Club and had us all thinking about Charleston. Urban planners, architects and great minds in all fields have all come up short with a solution to gentrification. Lance Freeman included.
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