The Nina, The Prius, The Santa Maria: Colonization By A New Name

The notorious ships captained by Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic in search of East Asian countries. Instead, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria traveled to Cuba, The Bahamas and Hispaniola incidentally “discovering” a new world.  Columbus became the bellwether for the colonization of the Americas.  Since the 1492 trek across the seas, the native peoples and lands of the western hemisphere have been traumatized. The gentrification of inner city neighborhoods is a modernization of the same pillaging.

Gentrification of urban neighborhoods leave communities void of culture, residents lost and displaced and areas that were once full of diverse life remain an expensive memory of what once was.  There is not a major city in the United States that is immune to the trauma of gentrification.  From New York City to Detroit and Atlanta, areas once notable by distinct experiences and meccas of black culture are now showcases of white coolness and wealth.

Gentrification triggers mass evictions moving families out of their homes and into dysphoria.  Housing departments implement remodeling, and revoke Section 8 from tenants to make room for luxury apartments with high price tags.  As gentrifying neighborhoods continues to be a source of profit, eviction rates climb. Cities such as Dallas and Chicago have faced this threat of mass eviction.

The Chicago Reader Reports “in 2014 more than 8,000 households were forcibly removed”

Residential tenants are not the only to be forced out by gentrification. Business owners are also plagued by the unfortunate effects of a gentrified town.  When the rent rises yet there are no patrons, restaurants, boutiques and more are forced to sell their businesses.   The once homegrown and authentic businesses are replaced with carbon copies of your favorite hipster hangout and rebranded as urban, new and fresh.

People are not only forced out of the places they call home, the neighborhoods become unrecognizable.  PBS cites a change in culture and character as a characterization of a gentrified neighborhood.  Once a neighborhood is invaded by gentrification, it begins to look completely different.The people change from a diverse population to an influx of unfamiliar white faces.  Corner stores turn into pressed juice shops and vibrant blocks are now hipster hot spots.  The remodeling of a town to satisfy new residents erases the pre-existing culture in the name of improvement.

Imagine going home, and feeling like a stranger.  

Many neighborhoods that undergo gentrification are seen as rundown places that can be made better. Many publications have posted articles questioning the negativity of gentrification citing better schools, lower crime rates and visually pleasing buildings as warranted results for any neighborhood. While these places can often use aesthetic, financial and infrastructural upgrades, it does not need to be done at the disparagement of people of color. Spike Lee, film director spoke out against the “good” in gentrification. During a 2014 speech at Pratt Institute, Lee reflects on the transformation of New York City neighborhoods at the hands of gentrification.

So, why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why’s there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!
— Spike Lee


At any given moment there is a realtor or business executive scouting out the next cool neighborhood.  The authentic vibes will be replaced with manufactured feelings of safety and peace.  As the quest for the next cool city continues, gentrification will further spread.  The change is inevitable however the ill feelings toward gentrification are felt by many and will always remain.