Is this the age of gentrification?

Two blocks west of my apartment building, past the strip club and the desolate discount mall, is the ghetto. A few more blocks that way, a shantytown-style trailer park is visible, through a leaning wire fence, from the street I take to the interstate during my commute.

I live in an area of Miami lately referred to as the Upper East Side. But it’s really just the eastern end of Little Haiti and Little River, two inner-city neighborhoods with large Haitian-immigrant populations. When I walk far enough from my building, I can’t ignore the stares.

Miami's Upper East Side, selected
Miami’s Upper East Side, selected. Click to see a close-up.

We have a case of gentrification, and I’m one of the local migrants who contribute to it. I’m a young, light-skinned, Latina professional living on low wages that are probably higher than those of some families in my neighborhood. I like trendy restaurants and art galleries, and I patronize Miami’s late-night bar scene occasionally, bringing my disorderly habits to areas where those families try to sleep early after working late. I live here because it’s centric and cheap. (As cheap as it’s going to get.)

My friend Camila Alvarez recently produced a documentary, “Right to Wynwood,” about the transformation of what is now Miami’s arts district. It was a Puerto Rican neighborhood years ago, seated between historically black neighborhoods where jazz stars used to perform during times of segregation. Now Wynwood is covered in murals and crawling with hipsters, businesspeople and tourists.

Read about Camila’s film at WLRN.org.

This transformation — and the accompanying buzzword so many have become familiar with — has been talked about for long around here. Locals know Wynwood and its surroundings, including my “Upper East Side,” are being gentrified. Some of us have compared it to the evolution of Williamsburg in New York city.

But today, I heard about the gentrification of favelas in Rio de Janeiro. That NPR story by Lourdes Garcia-Navarro shocked me. She could have been talking about my city. Two of the sources she interviewed were young, female, American professionals living in low-income neighborhoods — like me. She had soundbytes of nightlife and mentions of boutique hotels.

Is this happening everywhere?

I couldn’t help but think: Is my generation, unknowingly or otherwise, pushing itself into low-income areas as a statement? Some of the reasons sources of that NPR piece cited for living in poor neighborhoods were romantic: The desire to learn something or help society seemed to linger beneath the words.

It’s reminiscent of wanderlust. Are we taking that to our backyards? Is this just how it always goes?

Who stays to make room for low-income people?

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2 thoughts on “Is this the age of gentrification?

  1. Wanderlust does seem to be a part of it, but it generally has to do with how little we want to think about how much options there are for those who have money and some form of privilege compared to those who don’t. There was a documentary about notions of middle-class and how, by and large, people who were lower-middle class and upper- both identified themselves as simply middle class. There’s a more common than not need to be normal–not someone special so capable of displacing other people. Maybe this makes it easy to pretend that things are on more equal footing than they really are.

    1. I hadn’t thought about it that way. But I guess it’s common to think your problems are somehow worse than others, or to pity yourself in a way, enough to feel like you couldn’t be someone of enough privilege to displace people, in this case. Thanks for your comment.

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