My work in the East End has seemed to hover over one idea: gentrification. And it's about people.
The smartest people on the subject of gentrification have fleshed out the term with two more terms: displacement and erasure. Displacement describes the ways in which gentrification forces rent to increase. With rising rent comes people looking to more and more creative places to be able to live. Many choose to live elsewhere. In places like the East End of Houston, most people are renters. The East End is a place to find cheap housing, especially for lots of immigrants from Mexico and other countries in Central America. One person has even told me that in some places in Mexico the neighborhood of Magnolia Park in the East End is quite well known as an important landing spot of new arrivals to the US. This means the neighborhood is an important place of culture and identity formation. Leaving the neighborhood is not a simple move.
In the well regarded book by Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone, Putnam argues that people are becoming less civically engaged and therefore losing social capital. Missed in this analysis are the economic forces of displacement that cause the loss of social capital. For people who have been displaced from their homes, they no longer have neighbors to look after their kids. They no longer have the same friendships that they have cultivated over years in their neighborhood. Often they don't have the same social network to help them find jobs.
When I was in High School, I learned about how the economy worked. They taught us that the market dictates things like jobs. We also learned about the history of jobs and how certain industries have failed causing massive job loss. The lesson I learned was cruel: the market changes and certain industries change or fail, so sometimes workers get left out. But that's capitalism. So too with people who are displaced. We live in a global economy, so people need to go to where jobs are and if it's too expensive, they move somewhere else. This is the way the world works, and it leaves people without their people.
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