Friday, May 11, 2007

Mobility and gentrification

And interesting paragraph or so in a recent City Paper editorial that city leaders and mere residents need to spend some time contemplating. The focus of the editorial is the public school system's use of the mobility of students as an excuse for why so many of those 'at risk' students are doing well. But there is another facet to this problem at play here and the City Paper just touches on it with this:

Increasing housing and employment options for families in the same inner-city school districts receiving extra attention to raise test scores has not yet made it onto the radar screen of either the business community or our elected officials. Presently, Metro government’s focus when it comes to social issues outside the classroom in Nashville’s most-challenged areas seems to be enabling the ongoing gentrification of choice spots in the inner city and that is it.

Hip urban planning and historic preservation while they please the city’s upper middle class do little for the families struggling to simply find affordable rental property and decent paying employment along the city bus line.
So rewind to a couple of years back when Wal-Mart wanted to put a neighborhood market in one of these 'gentrifying' neighborhoods. This business would provide jobs and low costs staples to the very families that have 'at risk' children in one of the most difficult schools districts in the city. The jobs and the staples would have been within easier travel distance to these families and their affordable homes. Many of these families realized that while these weren't high paying jobs a job is better than no job.

However, the gentrifiers of the neighborhood would have none of it. On one hand they said they had the well-being of these families at heart by keeping at bay that evil and unjust employer and with the other they were motioning "talk to the hand" to their neighbors who were working hard at bringing this business with its jobs and goods into their neighborhood. These newbies to the neighborhood wanted trendy local shops to meet their needs. The needs and opinions of the other-side-of-Gallatin families were shouted down in meetings and e-lists as uninformed and politically unsophisticated. While the one side was concerned about the politics of being a good corporate citizen the other side was wondering where to get cheaper bread and how to pay for it.

So the problem comes around to how do we balance rejuvenating and rehabbing neighborhoods that have fallen on hard times without pushing out those long time neighbors when their neighborhoods become too expensive to live in and enough regular jobs aren't available?

To start with we have to make every voice valuable along the lines of one vote each. No one's voice should be given more weight merely because of volume or political connections. A voice is a vote. Then representatives need to make an extra effort to seek out those voices that are not as politically connected or saavy. You mentor them so their voice and their political representation will be heard and acted on. You make every effort to welcome larger employers who can employ many of these people closer to home so transportation between home, job, daycare and schools isn't a deal breaker. You make sure that their children get as good an education as their gentrified neighbor's child so that this generational lifestyle is broken and families are set on a better path.

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