The crime of segregation is that it keeps us from knowing one another. Non-profits, educational institutions, churches, governments and the courts have fought this consequence for years. When white America fled to the suburbs in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, they took their tax dollars with them, leaving the poor behind with underfunded institutions to provide vital services. The phenomenon was known as “white flight” and because people are free to move about as they like in this country, social institutions could do little to discourage the migration. The suburbs became a sanctuary for the haves, while the poor rotted in crime ridden inner cities. Side by side the two classes existed, little knowing and little trusting one another.
Then, gasoline became expensive and people tired of long commutes. Suburbanites began to eye the cities with hungry looks. In response, someone came up with the idea of urban renewal and the land rush began a second time. As Rebecca Solnit, writes, “.. the North American and European cities [ ] are becoming elite strongholds [ ] pushing out diversity, complexity, cultural production and dissent.” (“Coming Apart,” by Rebecca Solnit, Harper’s, November 2016, pg. 8.)
In a coffee shop the other day, I heard a woman sniff that she hated gentrification. As she sipped her crème de la crème coffee mocha with a dollop of whipped cream, I was tempted to ask why; but she was a stranger to me, so I kept my silence. Frankly, I take no offense at green spaces, tree-lined streets, and improved schools. I take no offense at convenient medical care, easy shopping and accessible public transportation. I don’t even take umbrage at coffee shops that sell crème de la crème coffee mochas with a dollop of whipped cream. What’s troubling to me, and perhaps to the coffee drinker, is that these amenities are available to so few.
We do ourselves and our society a disservice when we create checkerboard neighborhoods, Boardwalks and Baltic Avenues. Gentrification isn’t a bad evolution. Clean, well-lighted streets should be the right of everyone. But gentrification isn’t enjoyed by everyone. Simply put, and paraphrasing the words of Martin Luther King, when one class spends more on itself than it does on the social uplift of another, the country is approaching a spiritual death.