Each week on Tuesday and Thursday through October 20th 540Blog will feature guest blog’s from city residents themed around gentrification. Today’s blog comes courtesy of our Founder Calvin Eaton (aka theglutenfreechef). Check out Calvin’s blog below and be sure to register to attend 540WMain’s
The historical, present day, and future of urban gentrification is nothing less than complex. There are many systemic, institutional, and individual factors that facilitate the process of gentrification and usually by the time the identifying markers of what most know become visible ( coffee shops, high end luxury apartments, mixed use housing development) the powers that be have already made planning decisions behind the curtain that will affect a neighborhood for decades.
When taking in all the articles, research, and study material on the growth of cities in the United States it is easy to become cynical. Once you dive into the“facts” it becomes crystal clear that centuries of exploitation, marginalization, commodification, and racism have made cities ripe for the problems and issues that we currently see all across the country. The situation looks even more bleak when we look at the state of the world politically. You can begin to feel that gentrification in itself is a monstrous beast and in its totality; unable to be rectified. But is this the case?
Several months ago I spoke at a workshop curated by Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Rochester. Titled “We Are All Gentrifiers” the workshop had a goal to put human faces to the development and neighborhoods that we all live in in Rochester. It challenged students, faculty, and community members alike to challenge the concept of what it means to gentrify, improve, revitalize and develop a neighborhood. Throughout the discussion we learned about the backgrounds and stories of staff members that moved into neighborhoods like PLEX, Mount Hope, and the South Wedge. Each of them had a goal of making a living and securing a better life for their families. Like most of us, none of these individuals had a motive other than making a decent living here in Rochester. Even the students assessed their role as gentrifiers. That of Moving into a neighborhood with a purpose albeit temporarily to improve their lives through higher education.
When positioned in this context it became clear that most of us moved from somewhere. And in most neighborhoods in the City, the people that live next door to each one of us more than likely didn’t always live next door to us. Neighborhoods like the cities they make up are living organisms that ebb and flow with human energy and change with the time. Throughout the discussion, I was able to think about my own experience growing up moving into three different neighborhoods and becoming part of the history of each. My family eventually purchased a home in the Marketview Heights neighborhood and for the past decade has made this the Eaton Home. We like most folks that move into a property don’t know much about the neighborhood before we moved there. In fact, we still know very little about our neighbors. I can even look at my infiltration of the Susan B. Neighborhood as gentrification. So what is my point?
As we look at our individual neighborhoods it is important for each of us to think about our existence in the context of the history and ebb and flow of that space. None of us exist in a vacuum or in isolation but as part of a bigger narrative; a larger portrait. Unless you built your home from the ground up there were people that lived in your space before you. Like you they became part of the makeup and growth of that space in the same way you are. Understanding this makes us more aware of our physical presence in our spaces and helps us to see our individual homes and families as part of a collective.
This is why it is so important to say hello to your neighbors. Get to know the family down the street. Start a block party. Get to know your neighbors and more importantly get to know your neighborhood.
Understanding the past, helps us better interact with our present, so we can make our futures together on this planet, in our cities, in our neighborhoods and on our streets collectively better and stronger.
Calvin Eaton aka theglutenfreechef is a freelance educator, digital content creator, and social entrepreneur. As a professional Mr. Eaton’s areas of expertise include social media and digital content creation, food blogging and recipe development, antiracism, diversity, inclusion, K-12 curriculum writing and teaching, and higher education.