Gentrification – This is the word of the day. Who controls the land? My great grandmother, raised my grandmother who was born in 1918 in North Minneapolis, as was my mother, as was I, and now I am raising my children here. People identified us through our family lineage, we were and are part of a deeply connected community. People knew who we were because of our longevity and the relationships born out of our relationship to this place. I grew up going to Sunset Hill (26th and Theodore Wirth Parkway) to go sledding, riding our bikes to the river with my Dad to see the boat races, going to church, school, Kings Supermarket, all of these things in my neighborhood, I belonged here.
The Lewis and Calhoun’s article “The Right to the Community” is an article that I would say gives a well-rounded perspective of the changes in North Minneapolis particularly the gentrifying parts of the community. The following statement stood out to me and embodied many of the thoughts that I have about these changes. “Today, rapid urban restructuring throughout the Twin Cities ensures that a community once manufactured to contain undesirable low income Black residents, is now slowly becoming attractive to a rising population of white families”. I am a black woman in my 40’s and I have experienced the disinvestment and lack of faith in such a relational and culturally rich community. The quoted statement stood out because now that this community is becoming attractive to white families, I am hearing the conversation switch from service focused language to wealth building language. The approach to my community has been what services can we provide these people? We were viewed as a community full of deficits, violence, poverty, and always in need of help. The idea of investing in people, structures, schools, businesses has not gone past a conversation until white families became attracted to the community once abandoned by outsiders and placed low on decision makers’ priority list. Never abandoned by the community though. We remained steadfast, we continue to fight for education, we continue to support each other by exchanging goods and services, we are not always bound by the regulations that state how we can do business because we know those systems are not always supportive of our needs and our success. We remained because we belonged, and that sense of belonging is often undervalued.
The historic designation of the Homewood community is a great example of conflicting interests when a community becomes desirable to those with different interests and goals. This process makes me ask the question about historic designation. Is it only about the architecture? Are we preserving the history of the land? Are we ensuring our elders and families that have lived here for generations can afford to stay in a community that they have invested in, economically and emotionally? Will the drumline that used to march up Plymouth for Juneteenth still be able to celebrate here? These conversations around land and property and who gets to live where seems to lead without people being the main focus. Now that North Minneapolis is deemed desirable, investments that the community has needed for years is now available for the new residents and the residents they are trying to attract. I have watched the attempt of rebranding the Northside to Nomi, near downtown to The North Loop. How does someone else get to come here and rename our community? Did anyone ask the existing community members how they felt about that?
This article brings to light the paradox that happens in communities and why gentrification seems so scary. Communities across the board want investment, they want good schools, businesses, a sense of belonging and a strong social network. Communities of color have been left out of wealth building systemically for generations, and in my opinion we still have limited access to opportunities that result in generational wealth and thriving communities. This limits if not silences the voices of community members who can’t scream loud enough or don’t have enough capital to be heard in decision making spaces.
Gentrification is much deeper than who owns or controls the land but, who influences the culture. Who gets to control the narrative? Who decides what to invest in? I would argue that displacement happens well before historical families move out of the community. It begins to happen when they no longer feel as if they are part of the fabric of the community. When their faces are no longer reflected in the art. When the kids who used to be able to play basketball on the corner, now get the police called on them. When construction workers of color get the police called on them because the neighbors think they are doing something undesirable. When the neighborhood mechanic can no longer fix cars because the new family doesn’t understand the economics and the wealth of having an expert on the block that can fix anything with your car. Gentrification is about losing the historical and cultural norms of a community, it’s about someone else coming in and telling us how we can live in our communities, along with losing the choice of living in a community because we can no longer afford it. It’s about our assets being seen by someone else as deficits and/or criminal and them having the political will and backing that reinforces that. It’s about no longer having a sense of belonging because someone else had the power to make you feel uncomfortable in your own home. The statement “…who gets to define the urban agenda in North Minneapolis is now under debate.” I would argue this has always been under debate. Outside influencers have always tried to define the agenda in North Minneapolis, and we have always fought for our voices to make it into the final plan.
I will end with this. I appreciate this article capturing the diversity of voices in my community. I hope it sparks a deeper conversation about how we can prevent this pattern of community disinvestment and investments that have long term negative consequences on particularly communities of color. This is a deeply personal problem for me as I myself wonder if the changes in my community are for me or for my replacement. I am concerned that historical designations don’t preserve the essence of the community. I am concerned that if this community is displaced somewhere else, that somewhere down the line some decision maker will again see that community as desirable and once again that community will move. I would urge everyone to always think of the people first and listen to what they have to say. Then if you are bold enough, act on behalf of the people.
Shannon Smith Jones is the Executive Director of Hope Community after having served as the Director of Community Engagement at Urban Homeworks, both of which combine an emphasis on quality affordable housing with a strategic focus on engaging and working towards an equitable community. She received her B.A from the University of MN in Family Social Science, and is a Qualified Administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory. She brings with her 15 years of community impact experience, a strong passion for housing justice and brings to her work a community focused asset based approach.