Thursday, May 29, 2008

Portland Gentrification Makes NY Times

My wife found this article on the front page of the New York Times today, under the Portland Journal section. "Racial Shift in a Progressive City Spurs Talks".

"PORTLAND, Ore. — Not every neighborhood in this city is one of those Northwest destinations where passion for espresso, the environment and plenty of exercise define the cultural common ground. A few places are still described as frontiers, where pioneers move because prices are relatively reasonable, the location is convenient and, they say, they “want the diversity.”

Yet one person’s frontier, it turns out, is often another’s front porch. It has been true across the country: gentrification, which increases housing prices and tension, sometimes has racial overtones and can seem like a dirty word. Now Portland is encouraging black and white residents to talk about it, but even here in Sincere City, the conversation has been difficult."

While it's obvious that the NE has changed, we missed the beginning of the change. We decided to rent a house in the NE as it was a less-expensive neighborhood, relatively convenient to downtown and also convenient to my job in Vancouver.

As we drove around looking for places to rent, some of the first things we heard were a blatantly racist real estate agent encouraging us not to live in certain areas of the NE (near Killingsworth), and our movers who told us "when we saw your address we were afraid to come out here."

I'll leave you to read the full article if you're interested, but this comment struck me as disingenuous.

"Ms. Laufer offended some, but she said in an interview a few days later that she had meant well, that she felt enlightened by what she heard at the meeting and hoped to be able to discuss her feelings about race honestly with blacks. Unlike some other whites new to the area, she was not aware of the city’s history when she moved there. The price was right, that is all, and Mrs. Laufer loved the front porch."

I find it hard to believe that nobody told her the history of the NE, we learned about it without even asking. And just looking around it's pretty obvious what's going on.


Anonymous said...

Portland’s solution? A “Restorative Listening Project” where white newcomers could listen to the complaints of blacks who have been pushed out and those who are left behind. The whites love it because they get to feel like they are part of some New Age reconciliation process.

Some of the blacks are not so sure. “Where’s this meeting going?” one asked.

Portland is not unusual. As documented by Joel Kotkin, the same thing is happening, with much greater vengeance, in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is probably also happening in Seattle. It may soon happen in Denver.

What bugs me is that the people in these cities, as the Times notes in its headline, call themselves “progressives,” as if this means they care about democracy and the rights of low-income families, minorities, and others to try to attain the American dream. In fact, Progressives have always been some of the most intolerant, authoritarian folks around.

Anonymous said...

You got that right, anonymous. Add in there Madison, Wisconsin, Burlington, Vermont, and Austin, Texas. Boston, NYC, and Philly, though Philly has somehow never managed to discard/hide its poor and black majority.

Look at the map of "blue" versus "red" states and cities. Now look at the list of the top ten most expensive places to live. Blue blue blue. That is to say, white. Or anyway the wealthy hoods are.

There was a thing in the NYT today about how wonderful Denver was doing. "Skid row" turned into shiny gleamy upscale gentrified hoods. Didn't say where the poor people went, but you can bet what color they were.

I lived and worked in the Chicago/Milwaukee/Madison triangle for some years. Couldn't believe the "progressives" there. Richest people in the room, always, and always knew what was best for The Poor. Always knew the difference between justice (what they thought/did) and injustice (what some other bad people were doing, never them). Always so concerned and sincere and angry on behalf of people they chose not to live around or have around.

I was generally the only black person in the room, and it was interesting to watch them pretend I wasn't.

Redlining has always been blackwhite, except recently, when it's been green.