Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - On Sept. 29, just minutes into freshman convocation, Liz Magill’s first major speech as University of Pennsylvania president was disrupted by about 100 protesters. The protesters, including students, chanted “Save UC Townhomes” and “stop Penn-trification.” After sitting briefly, Magill attempted to continue, making the disrespectful suggestion to the protesters, among whom were local residents facing eviction, that “Democracy cannot work unless people can live together, learn from one another and, paradoxically, disagree.” Amid continuous chants, Magill was unable to finish her remarks. The movement that disrupted this event has become one of the most dynamic forces in Philadelphia in recent months.
Making neighborhoods more “green” through environmental infrastructure and other green investments such as open space parks, rain gardens, permeable pavement and rainwater harvesting can result in an area being perceived as more desirable, which can lead to rents and property values going up. This, in turn, leads to lower-income residents being pushed out — a process called “green gentrification.” As wealthier residents move in, so do businesses that accommodate their tastes, while longer-term residents who don’t earn as much are faced with rising living costs, disappearing community institutions and, eventually, being displaced altogether. According to a report by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), rewilding could lead to those with lower incomes being pushed out of their local communities, The Guardian reported.
Providence, Rhode Island - Around 90 people gathered in Burnside Park in Providence, Rhode Island on Sept. 1 to protest a development plan for so-called “affordable” housing. The plan would give millions in government subsidies and tax breaks to a private real estate developer to convert The Industrial National Bank Building into luxury apartments. Like the rest of the country, Rhode Island is in the midst of a statewide housing crisis where truly affordable housing is almost impossible to find, and evictions and rent hikes run rampant. Protesters called on the government to fund public, affordable homes while protesting the gross misuse of a building which could house hundreds of families.
Forty years ago, residents of Philadelphia won a subsidized housing community in the area known as Black Bottom after fighting the discrimination and displacement being used to clear the way for University City. Now the city is allowing that community, 72 residences called University City Townhomes (UCT), to be sold for gentrification. Clearing the FOG spoke with Rasheda Alexander, a resident of UCT, and Sterling Johnson of Philadelphia Housing Action about their efforts to protect UCT and stop the wave of evictions and displacement that primarily target low income black and brown people. Their organizing and actions have not only been effective in putting pressure on city officials but have also brought the community together and inspired others to stand up for their rights. See SaveTheUCTownhomes.com for more information.
Minneapolis, Minnesota – Minneapolis has experienced a real estate boom since the economic crash of 2008 which was triggered when lenders gave out millions of discriminatory home loans with adjustable interest rates to mostly Black and brown families causing a massive nationwide mortgage default. In the past decade, the city added over 20,000 new units to its housing stock, with the overwhelming majority being rental units. With increased housing supply, Minneapolis added 60,000 new residents, according to the 2020 census. In recent years, the City of Minneapolis has attempted to codify “upzoning,” a practice where multi-family housing stock is increased citywide, with its 2040 plan that banned the new construction of single family homes throughout the city.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - Darlene Foreman, a 60-year-old Black woman and one of the UC Townhomes tenant representatives, told the assembled press on July 11: “This is a fight for the Townhomes but not only the Townhomes.” It’s for people “all over the country who are facing displacement.” Behind her were about 50 other residents and supporters holding signs or cell phones as she continued: “I will not be displaced. . . . Me, the residents here and people all over the country are sick of it. So, if this fight takes today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, the year after that, then we’re gonna be out here fighting!” In the background were about 15 tents, which were put up on the property’s green lawn after a “Protect the Block Party” July 9. Residents and housing activist supporters are taking turns staying overnight as part of the “We ain’t going nowhere” campaign, joining in the residents’ resistance.
Durango, Colorado - On a cold January day at the height of ski season, as tourists check into Durango’s resort hotels and wealthy vacationers roll suitcases into their second homes, Alejandra Chavez pulls away from her single wide trailer on the outskirts of town and drives the two-lane road south to look for a new place to live in New Mexico. Chavez dreads the prospect of making this same 1.5‑hour-drive, back and forth, every day, but she sees few options. Her work is in Durango, but Durango, it seems, may no longer have a home for her. Chavez, 30, moved to the area 18 years ago to join her parents, who fled economic desolation in Mexico and found work in Durango. In 2008, the family bought their trailer in Westside Mobile Home Park for $12,000.
Providence, Rhode Island - Terrell Osborne knows well what happens when urban renewal comes to communities of color. As a child growing up in Providence, Rhode Island, in the 1950s and 1960s, huge swaths of his neighborhood of Lippitt Hill, a center of Black life at the foot of the stately homes of the city’s elite East Side, were taken by eminent domain for redevelopment projects. Hundreds of Black families and dozens of minority small businesses across some 30 acres were bulldozed. In their place rose an apartment complex catering to downtown workers and students and faculty at nearby Brown University, as well as a shopping plaza now anchored by a Whole Foods and a Starbucks. Meanwhile, Black families like the Osbornes were scattered across the city and never compensated.
Oakland, California - On April 29, thousands of teachers, students and parents from Schools and Labor Against Privatization (SLAP) rallied at Oscar Grant Plaza next to City Hall in Oakland, California, then marched to the Port of Oakland where they held a picket line that shut the port down. The innovative joint labor action was an historic day in the campaign led by SLAP, union teachers of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) and International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10, against racist gentrification in Oakland. Local 10 honored the picket line with a stop-work action in solidarity with the teachers and community to fight the privatization and destruction of the port and Oakland’s public school system engineered by billionaire John Fisher.
While the land relationships that dominate this society have implications for every relation in society, the recent crisis of gentrification and forced removal in low income Black communities, along with the volatile boom-bust real estate cycles, has made the struggle for adequate housing the most pronounced battleground in an increasingly intense war over the vision for the future of how we relate, prioritize and manage access to land. The current regime of land relationships renders housing and community development fatally flawed in at least two respects: first, houses serve dual social functions in this society, but those functions are contradictory and at odds with each other. And second, decisions about land use is fundamentally undemocratic, rendering people unable to make basic decisions about how to improve their own communities.
Most of the windows in the Dover, Idaho community hall face old Dover, still looking over the original mill workers’ houses and church that were transported upriver in 1922. Slipping into the kitchen and peering out the back window, however, is a reminder of how much Dover has changed. In the 1950s, it would have looked at a tangle of trees, then a deep meadow in the distance, and the community’s sandy beach just beyond that. Later, the view would include massive piles of woodchips, the birch trees providing some cover between the building and graying piles of sawdust. Today, there’s a walking path that skirts the back of the community hall and, beyond that, brand-new homes. Dozens of buildings, from condominiums to bungalows to massive mansions, now sit in the fields where the mill once stood.
Davarian L. Baldwin’s recent book, In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower, offers an insightful examination—and stirring critique—of the role of universities in the political economy of U.S. cities. In this interview, Baldwin shines a light on how institutions that define themselves as key contributors to the public good have entrenched new forms of urban inequality. Understanding the meaning of higher education in American life today requires seeing the university from the perspective of the workers it exploits, the residents it displaces, and the people it polices. Sam Klug: You claim that many major cities have not just embraced the eds and meds economy but have actually become company towns for large institutions of higher education—what you label “UniverCities.” How do universities exercise this kind of control?
The soon to be constructed Barack Obama Presidential Center poses a great danger to the surrounding Black neighborhoods on the South Shore of Chicago. In fact, thanks to this $500 million, 19-acre homage to the 44th president, there may not be any Black people living there much longer. Families are already facing rent increases and homes that were once moderately priced are now unaffordable to Black working people. These market manipulations are integral to the gentrification model of urban development. The end result is always a displaced and dispersed Black population. This crisis is but the latest Obama slap in the face to the people who loved him the most. His 2008 presidential campaign stump speeches were replete with the worst stereotypes about Black men.
I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts. In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city’s low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided. This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food — including what’s seen as “ethnic,” “authentic” or “alternative” — often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.
Washington, DC — “Where that McDonald’s is right now,” he says pointing across the street. “That used to be a news stand where I’d buy comics as a kid.” Dumah Muhammad stands in Adams Morgan Plaza in Washington, D.C., a light drizzle misting a small crowd of supporters and press. A few people wrangle a tarp over the PA system and there’s a tent where folks can grab snacks, pamphlets, water and shelter. Five Metropolitan Police cars are parked alongside the plaza and just behind the plaza there’s a staging area stacked with fencing and mingling cops. Despite literally being surrounded, the energy in the plaza is that familiar direct-action blend of defiance and celebration. Between speeches, music pumps out of the PA and folks dance alongside anti-gentrification artwork and handmade signs.