How to know your neighborhood is gentrifying. (They forgot the Chipotle.)

This morning while I was doing some research, I stumbled across a little piece of tongue-and-cheek blog fodder from the Houstonia titled, The Houstonia Step-By-Step Guide to Gentrification. It’s pretty funny and does a great job tracking the development of a trendy, chic neighborhood. Of course, the timeline they develop is oozing with irony and has a dash of humor.

You should really click over and read that article… because the rest of what I say is not going to make sense otherwise.

The article, perhaps unwittingly, does a great job pointing out a couple of the issues surrounding gentrification. For the church planter (and definitely the church revitalizer), there are some cues to pick up out of this article.

The same kind of different.

Despite the hipster push toward individuality and uniqueness, gentrifying neighborhoods have a whole lot in common. In fact, it stretches the term to call the revitalization happening in urban centers unique. They may begin to look different than they did, but they are, in surprising fashion, turning into the same kind of commercialized enclaves as other gentrifying areas. I am not crying foul on the whole endeavor here, just pointing out that this is occurring in a lot of places. What we are really seeing is a change in consumer preferences and tastes rather than a true individuality. This is important for local churches to understand, as it affects the way you can minister in these neighborhoods.

For every new building an old one dies.

This really gets at the rub of gentrification. Those who are moving into the area because of gentrification look around and see revitalization. However, the families who have watched their children grow up on those streets are watching one familiar location after another disappear. That is, if they are able to stay around at all. Gentrification usually inflates the real estate to the point that original residents are forced out. It can be a source of economic displacement. This causes really high tensions, and I am not so certain the folk moving into the neighborhood usually realize that.

When living in DC doing urban research, I ran into this exact phenomenon. It just so happened that my house was on the dividing line between an historic neighborhood and a rapidly gentrifying quarter of the city. Housing projects were on the street to the north of my house and large cranes were putting up luxury apartments on the street to the south. It was somewhat surreal. As I talked to the new residents in the apartments to the south, they were excited about how much better the city was becoming. In their eyes, there were no down sides to what they were calling revitalization. The people to the north of me had a completely different view. They were rather bitter at the land grabbers moving in a block over. In fact, they were watching old landmarks of their childhood get bull-dozed in order to put in a Chipotle. It was a tension that only one side even knew existed.

That makes church planting and revitalization in these areas tough. A new church planter who is armed with ideals and the romanticized vision of bringing everyone together in his neighborhood sees the census data on one of these neighborhoods and realizes there is a lot of diversity. In his mind, he thinks it is an eclectic mix. What he doesn’t realize is that the data is really telling the story of two completely different communities that happen to exist in the same space, one furious at the other’s presence and one completely oblivious to some of the consequences of that presence.

 

Photo by Mike Mozart, under Creative Commons.

6 Comments

  1. Oh yeah that is very true.
    I will plant a church in an extremly fast changing world. Very dirty place – the most I have ever seen and the power of organzied criminality is so big, that is very difficult to gentrify all houses – but around that there is such an elitarian hipster stuff going on – also close to the financial capitol area of europe. And I am very scary of high prices and quick change. As A churchplanter I have to think about the following questions:

    1. What is my heart and passion? And consider the fear of that the neighbourhood will change completly and if you try to reached certain kind of people – you have question yourself – Should we move or should we stay in that neighbourhood? It can destroy you.

    For that reason I not only want to take focus on just ONE neighbourhood – excatly for that reason of quick change, specially in my context – and maybe it would be more wise to have a Vision independent of just one neighbourhood – a vision that includes that whole city. In my city it is maybe possible – cause Frankfurt is small – and it os not LA, where everything is really spread out.

    April 1, 2016
    Reply
    • Keelan Cook said:

      Michael, these are great points, friend. I’m encouraged to hear that you’re thinking though the dynamics that are created by these transitions.

      You’re right to question your motivation, and to view the fear of transition through the lens of the gospel and the Great Commission. Truth is, the neighborhood where you are going will not stay the same. Neighborhoods are dynamic. That means that good ministry takes being attuned to these shifts. However, it does not mean we throw up our hands and quit, and it does not mean we avoid places with such transition.

      Also, I think local church cooperation is a key to the second dynamic you mention. No church can reach an entire city. Our focus should be bigger than one neighborhood, but we need to think about partnering with other churches to reach those we can’t and planting more churches to aid in the work of reaching all the different kinds of people in an area.

      I really appreciate you adding your insight from a European perspective. That’s very helpful!

      April 1, 2016
      Reply
  2. Meilenweit said:

    Yes thanks man! appreciate it.

    Yeah the city is changing – so the church should never get stuck, but being strong faithful in the content of the gospel.
    So I am excited – I think you can be too afraid of the changes of a neighbourhood, and you can be to blind.
    We need maybe a good balance and a different alterantive zu gentrify a neighbourhood – instead of making everything material great again – is it good to identify with the people in the area – with that view – you will not gentrify – but more – you will GODTRIFY or GENTRIFIHOLCATION 🙂 Making the neighbourhood great again with the gospel!

    You are approaching good good topics.

    April 4, 2016
    Reply
    • Keelan Cook said:

      Thanks for your kind words, and I’m glad the post was beneficial for you! The need to identify with the existing culture must certainly be a high priority in reaching a neighborhood in this kind of transition.

      April 6, 2016
      Reply

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