On Wednesday evening, dozens gathered to hear a fantastic presentation by Minority Peer Counselors Khalif Andre, Katherine Chavez, Brian Elizalde, Terrell Palmer, and Emilio Vides-Curnen about gentrification and its harmful effects on communities of color. The workshop was sponsored by the Brown Center for Students of Color and the Office of Residential Life. Audience members also shared their own personal narratives about gentrification and what they are doing to fight it. If you couldn’t make it to this event, here are some takeaways from the workshop:
- Gentrification is not new. Even though it may seem like gentrification is a recent phenomenon, workshop facilitators pointed to the long history of housing discrimination in the United States as a predecessor to contemporary gentrification. To illustrate this history, the facilitators centered their historical discussion around a fictional Black family moving from the South to Chicago during the Great Migration and pointed to the various obstacles they would have faced if they tried to live anywhere other than established, predominantly Black neighborhoods. Families were often met with White Citizens Councils attempting to maintain housing and education segregation though legal and state-sanctioned forms of discrimination like racially restrictive housing covenants. They also spoke to the extremely powerful tactic of redlining, a practice that allowed for the legal denying of mortgages on the basis of. The effects of redlining can still be seen today.
- Gentrification has violent effects. It’s easy to get caught up in the theoretical or abstract issues with gentrification and forget that it has direct and often deadly impacts on real lives. The case of Alejandro Nieto, a San Francisco man who was shot dead in the neighborhood where he grew up, demonstrates the horrific effects of gentrification. After residents who recently moved into the neighborhood called the police on Nieto, who was eating tortilla chips in a park, he was shot and killed by police who mistook his taser (which he used for his job as a bouncer) for a gun. An audience member at the workshop pointed to the Oakland Ghost Ship Fire last December as an example of deadly effects of gentrification, explaining how as a result of limited affordable housing, people seeking lower rent cram into unsafe warehouses or single rooms, where fires often come as a result of electrical overuse.
- Fox Point has been hugely gentrified as a result of Brown’s presence on the East Side. The Fox Point neighborhood, just Southeast of Brown’s campus, was heavily populated by Cape Verdeans and Portuguese immigrants until Brown expanded into the neighborhood in the 1950s, buying cheap tracts of land and razing all property they deemed low grade. Along with the University’s plans to create student and faculty housing, the construction of I-95 through Fox Point also evicted hundreds of residents. When discussing how Brown students can work against Brown’s gentrifying history while also seeking cheaper housing off-campus (often in Fox Point), facilitators and audience members suggested being cognizant of the area’s history and being an involved, not passive member of the neighborhood. Read more here.
Brown is playing an active role in gentrification of Providence today. Gentrification in Providence didn’t end in the 1950’s once Fox Point’s population dramatically changed. Currently, Brown has plans to expand the Alpert School of Medicine and the School of Public Health into the Jewelry District, an area just south of Downtown. The University’s plan centers around “commerce” and “innovation” instead of critically approaching the ways Brown interacts with Providence. Students worry that the development of the Jewelry District could easily spill into the neighborhood Upper South Providence, a largely Latinx and Black neighborhood. Audience members pointed out President Paxson’s conflation of the University’s interests with Providence’s interests, despite the huge discrepancy between racial and economic demographics of each (the median family income at Brown is $204,000, while in Providence it is $44,000).
- Think critically about where you will move after graduation. Being mindful is a good first step to fighting gentrification, though it is by no means the only step. Be purposeful about where you live, be thoughtful about how you behave and what community norms are, and above all, don’t call the police in a neighborhood you just moved into, especially if that neighborhood is populated by people of color.