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I keep hearing people talk about the effects of gentrification in Uptown but can find no substantive evidence of it. This idea of gentrification has recently caused some silly people to do some dumb things in my neighborhood. From the evidence that I can find, gentrification in Uptown is a myth.
Myth #1: Poor people are being forced out of the neighborhood due to increased property values and rental rates.
There is no evidence of this, in fact most of the evidence points in the opposite direction - there is an ample supply of affordable housing options in Uptown as well as most of City. The neighborhood has consciously worked to ensure that a wide variety of housing options are available including options for low-income residents. Lighthouse Communities built the Uptown Village Apartments and Townhouses at the corner of Wealthy and Diamond to ensure high-quality low-income housing. Currently, Habitat for Humanity and Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids are working on a project in Wealthy Heights, that will provide low-income home ownership opportunities.
Myth #2: New businesses are forcing out businesses that serve the neighborhood.
Myth #3: New businesses do not fit into the community, i.e. provide no community benefit.
The majority of new businesses in the Uptown area have filled vacant store fronts, empty buildings, and new developments - not displacing existing businesses. We have seen the area transform from boarded up buildings to active businesses to the benefit of the entire community. Blaming the failure of a business on a reviving business district is absurd. Most business failures are caused by poor planning, not having a business plan or marketing plan. The businesses that have failed in the Uptown area are as diverse as the ones that have been successful. New businesses are not forcing others out of business but are adding to the diversity of goods and services in the neighborhood. The idea that every business should serve the needs of everyone in the community is another point of absurdity. Business does not function on an egalitarian model, this have proved out on the world stage over and over again. An active business district reverses the flow of disinvestment, bringing more capital into the community, generating revenue for our city thus allowing the city to continue to provide services. Additionally, the businesses in Uptown, especially on Wealthy Street, have been actively engaged with the broader community in which they exist.
Myth #4: Gentrification is a real thing, Uptown is being invaded.
What we are seeing in Uptown is re-investment after decades of dis-investment. The Uptown area has historically been a place of mixed incomes, we have great historical markers that make direct evidence of the history of this community, all one needs to do is look at the housing stock. Our community has always been composed of people of greatly varying income levels - some lived in large houses others in small houses or apartments. The idea that this area of the city has historically been primarily poor is a misnomer, it has always been mixed. In the 60s and 70s there was massive disinvestment that led to a temporary decline that is now being corrected. This is not "new" development but the return of what was here - an active thriving neighborhood with active thriving businesses. New infill that is being built is merely replacing neglected property that had been demolished and left vacant. No invasion is happening, just a 30 year long slow trickle of re-investment that is re-making what was here before.
Grand Rapids based Installation Artist, Community Activist, and Curmudgeon. Recipient of the Rapidian's illustrious Hunter S. Thompson Superlatives award in 2010.
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