Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gentrification: Signs, Windows, and Doors

My personal favorite place to be in the urban neighborhood is where rich meets poor, i.e., the frontiers of gentrification. That is what I see now. Plenty of coffee shops, restaurants, the new sidewalks going in: all brick and cork lining and brushed new concrete. But I also love the old stuff hanging on.

If I walk three blocks east, there are overpriced lovely loft condominiums for sale--all refurbished older buildings, with new windows jutting out and sometimes new 'skins'. Across from that, there is a hardware store run by whatever generation it is (that whole stupid classification Gen-X,Y, Z, or I for I-phone apps--I don't know). They have a mural that extends all the way down the side of their building, full of exuberant revolution. Here is one part of it.

Next to that is an art gallery. And then a barber shop with its own kind of art. You just know this place is a hotbed of black male gossip, and it must be great. Oh, to be a fly on the wall!!

Next to that is a take-out food place. My favorite thing about it is the fish picture in the side window. This picture is well past its shelf life: covered in dust and sagging badly. Therefore it is not good advertising. But I know better. Probably the best fish around if you can just walk in the door.

If I turn right, I see another hardware store, clearly dying. But its owner must have loved Lionel Trains. People, I love rust and crud. If this sign comes down, I will count it a loss.

If I turn left, I run into recently-closed pawn shops (very recently closed) and other dilapidation. Interesting tile work from the last mid-century. It's a toss-up whether it will be preserved or not. Behind it is a day care center. Yup. For dogs. All these fancy lofts are for single people.

New groceries going in, to serve the new condo dwellers. Other groceries served the lower-income folks and are starting to show prosperity.  New paint, more merchandise. Different culture. Isn't this lovely? And you can still get a money order, no sweat.

It's still a clash of cultures. I don't find it ugly, at least not in daylight. But it represents immense struggle. This garage retrenched. It gave up half of its square feet for a funky boutique in hot pink. They repainted their garage door to fit in with the boutique, and then it was defaced. The garage is an urban vocational training center. So much wrong with this--and yet fascinating. Here, graffiti is a sign of hostility, but also identity. It's a rear-guard action, but fate still hangs in the balance.

I find it interesting to view the frontier. It's slipping away, at least here. But it will come back. All this was prosperous once before, and then it failed. Neighborhood services left. Now they're coming back.

Small business expresses their dreams, their identity: Lionel Trains. Fish pictures. Murals of revolution, carefully rendered in bright red. The floating heads of the Six Famous Barbers.

It has character when it's new, and it keeps character when it is old.

We are seeing a renaissance around here. That means birth is now included in the long death of this neighborhood. It's a full cycle now and to me, it is beautiful, every fresh-paint and peeling-paint piece of it.


Momma Fargo said...

Very cool and most awesome-est post ever! This was so moving and interesting and fun and fresh!

Unknown said...

LOVED THIS POST ANNIE!! Your words and pictures are in perfect harmony. Well done girl!! Muahs!!

Ann T. said...

Dear Momma Fargo and peedee,
I am so flattered it meant so much!
Thank you very much,

Ann T/Annie

Bob G. said...

Personally, I find areas like this fascinating, and have frequented my share of them in more than several cities.

What I don't really like is the CLASH of cultures, but rather the "intermingling" of them...

I know what my Mom used to tell me when CLOTEHS "clash"...NEVER mix polka dots with stripes, for example.
ANd a red shirt with a yellow belt and green pants don't do all that well unless you're posing on the corner as a TRAFFIC SIGNAL!
Some things JUST DO NOT go well together.

But when you can EASE from one cultural venure into another with a level of sanguine clarity, that makes it great to live in America!

(That fish looks like a TARPON, btw)

I think you got some real possibilities in your area (grafitti aside), and I';ve always like the architecture of the older buildings.

very good post.

You (and Miss Ellen) have a great Sunday.


Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
You bet: we are lucky to have diversity and not so lucky to have culture clash, especially when crime comes with it.

I have some architecture pictures to gather together, but so far they aren't quite conveying the majesty--I'm getting there!

Thanks for stopping by,
have a great Sunday!

Ann T.

Raindog said...


Think of it as ebb and flow. The neighborhood has not always been poor. The neighborhood will not always be wealthy. Each generation and wave of immigration, cultural, age, and social class needs a place to permeate and transform. Nothing is static. Everything changes and graces our lives in this way.


Ann T. said...

Dear RD,
That's exactly what I think. I guess to me the frontier is an irregular line, much like the wave on a beach.

And so, the tides.

Thank you! It is a grace, and to be able to see it--one of my life's great pleasures.

Ann T.

Capt. Schmoe said...

What a great post. The images show a cultural paradox, one not dissimilar to one that my hometown has gone through.

One group has come into the area, building junior estates an buying large tract homes, paving areas where we once rode and shot. The then complain about the behaviors that once attracted them to the area.

The other group brought gangs, graffiti, a foreign language and a disrespect for our culture and societal norms.

Both are equally annoying to us "dirt people". Small elements of all three groups have adopted the "thug life", a sub-group I have no use for.

My kids sat it's a sign of me getting old and inflexible. Humph.

Ann T. said...

Dear Captain Schmoe,
I could write such a long comment. The worst thing about gentrifiers is hating what was attractive, just as you say. I never get this.

As to thug life, I keep trying to understand it--. I remember how the hippies looked so meaningful and decorative when I was in grade school. Now I frequently wonder--did it transform this generation? Not to their stated ideals, it didn't. Which is bad. Only the undercurrent of carelessness and the me generation parts lasted.

But thug life does look like it's transforming people to their stated ideals, and this seems so much worse. There's nothing there to hold on to. You know this better than me because you encounter it with your profession.

I listen to Notorious B.I.G. because he is a cultural expression--an analytical procedure like art critique. I am also appalled by the cultural values expressed--emotionally, like, not hanging that in my dining room.

So, fuddy-duddy. And I agree about the paradoxes. I'm glad you wrote in!

Ann T.

The Observer said...

Ann T:
Wonderful post! I wonder if these things are the mark of older cities--we've had neighborhoods change in KC but usually only one way so far. Maybe the area called Hyde Park is gentrifying--but it's a slow process and there is tension from the presence of large clusterfucks of Section 8 housing.

@Capt Schmoe: Great comment!

On the graffiti--no big fan, but maybe that big field of chartreuse was just too much for the taggers to take?

The Observer

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
I do think it's a matter of critical mass. I have lived in poor areas, one that didn't ever gentrify and one that tried and failed. This was a real hodgepodge and frequently depressing.

The Section 8 thing is a matter of critical mass. Part of what you take on--and Captain Schmoe sort of implies it--is not just the old architecture but the current neighbors. Once the previous settlers leave, in my eyes you lose some of the charm. But if it's overwhelmingly bad, you will not get a good foothold. At least that's what I believe.

It's the balance, I think. People can't go in b/c of funky architecture and low prices and expect everything to go their way. 9Good, fast, or cheap; pick 2.)

Thanks for commenting! yes, I think that big chartreuse space looked like an opportunity knocking.

Ann T.