Simply Late to the Party

To those of you who’ve recently found this blog by checking out my linked posts on the Urbanophile thanks for stopping by.  I hope I can encourage you to become a regular reader and contributor here as well.
Some of you may be familiar with some rather extraordinary events taking place in Detroit right now.  The State of Michigan, under the authority of legislation known as Public Act 4, has been assuming control of fiscal matters of local governments and school districts across the state.  Since the law was enacted last year, the cities of Benton Harbor, Highland Park, Pontiac and Flint, and the school districts of Muskegon and Detroit, have essentially become under state control due to deep deficit issues.  The state appoints an emergency manager who has very broad and sweeping powers (for example, the EM can invalidate all union contracts) without the traditional oversight of a city council.  The EM stays in place until fiscal responsibility is re-established in the community.  Detroit’s problems have been well documented, and the state has entered into a consent agreement with the City of Detroit to begin similar actions there.
Of course, the move by the state has sparked a ton of controversy in the Detroit area.  As is usually the case in metro Detroit, the debate has fallen along very sharp racial and city/suburban lines (which, in the Detroit area, are very nearly one and the same).  Frequent comments on the suburban side of the debate mention the fiscal irresponsibility of Detroit’s leadership as evidence of a need for state takeover, while those on the city’s side see the state as orchestrating a takeover of the city to benefit suburban interests.
Unfortunately, that’s the mild version.  If you take a look at the comments to stories about the consent agreement in the Detroit News, you’ll find strongly worded racist garbage that lays Detroit’s slide into the fiscal abyss squarely on the shoulders of the city’s black leadership and black majority population. 
I could not disagree more.
Imagine a house party that starts up in a home on a quiet block.  The party starts as a small gathering, but quickly develops into something that captures the attention of those from miles around.  And as new arrivals become attracted to the party, the size of the celebration begins to overwhelm its hosts.
In addition to the new partiers a group of onlookers begins to gather outside the party.  They wish to join in on the festivities and offer to help out, but their offers are generally rebuffed. 
But the party continues to grow and become unwieldy.  The onlookers are needed to help out.  The craziness of the party is causing many of the early arrivers to leave and more onlookers are needed to contribute.  The party spreads to adjacent homes, adjacent blocks.  As the party spreads more onlookers are needed to keep the party going.  Why?  It seems that as the party spreads the partiers want to revel in the fun but leave the cleanup to someone else.
Finally, the party begins to die down but three things become clear – the party has left a huge mess; the manic energy that kept the party going has disappeared;  and the former onlookers are being blamed for the condition of the neighborhood! 
The former onlookers are ready to tackle the task of cleaning up the mess, and do their best to assure the early partiers that they have the ability to handle the cleanup.  Unfortunately for the former onlookers, the mess is too large for them to take on and they are slow to realize they don’t have the manpower or the skills for the job.
The mess can’t be cleaned up until all those who joined in the party play a role in cleaning up the aftermath.
I don’t claim to be some master of allegory but that story seems to describe where Detroit is as a city today. The city’s revitalization needs people willing to pitch in, not point fingers.

4 thoughts on “Simply Late to the Party


    In the minds of many, the word gentrification is interpreted as a bad word. A politically incorrect insult or an unwanted takeover. I personally see nothing wrong with the word or the action of gentrification. Like most others, I cannot stand the sight of a beautiful architecturally-designed turn of the century building, being torn down to make way for a new suburban-style designed bank, Walgreens or Wal-Mart. Here in the Windy City, it seems to be Target that’s taking over just about every neighborhood these days. However, Corporate gentrification is a bit different than social-class gentrification in my humble opinion. Most gentrifying people choose to relocate to “up and coming” neighborhoods because of affordability, access to convenient transportation, diversity, uniqueness of the area and easy access to the Loop or center city. When most people hear the word gentrification, we immediately think of white hipsters or yuppies moving in, in droves. Our very next thought is, “we’re going to be priced out of our own communities”.

    So here is my question at hand? Why do black urban professional (buppies) chose “not” to gentrify majority black neighborhoods? Of course crime is the very first thing that comes to mind. In addition to crime, most blacks have no desire to return to the kind of neighborhood that we worked so hard to get away from. Finally, once urban black professionals reach a certain status in life, we choose to spend twice as much money, or more, buying or renting a shoe box size apartment in a trendy and mostly Caucasian neighborhood. Then we choose to take a financial risk, twice as high as our white counter-part by opening a business in a neighborhood in which most of our clientele does not exist. My guess is, results would probably show that we have a much higher rate of failure because we’re a fish out of water for the most part. At the same time, traditional black neighborhoods are suffering by not having an overabundance of “quality” black owned businesses that we’re sorely in need of. Also, “others” can easily move-in and start a fairly comfortable new life after we have literally let the place rot into inexistence. I am certainly not preaching segregation, but the opportunity to take advantage of a wide open market. Which we already have the key to…



    In most Northern Midwest Cities and Northeast cities, black neighborhoods are located in areas which usually tend to be the most desirable parts of these cities. Real estate is cheap, infrastructure is already there and a high number of vacant commercial properties awaits our talents and skills. Why do buppie’s choose “not” to take advantage of these choice locations and affordable opportunities? On the other hand, we wait until “others” choose to move into our communities, purchase real estate for next to nothing, clean up the trash and it usually only takes one dive bar to open before the neighborhood becomes “hot.” Then we cry gentrification!

    I am a black urban professional living in the West Garfield Park neighborhood on the Far West side of Chicago. I am “gentrification” in my own community. The surprising thing is, I’m not alone. There are many young black urban professionals living on the West side of the city and I think we’re finally getting it! But we need more! Now is the time to take advantage of what our neighborhoods offer, before increased property values and taxes, caused by gentrification, unexpectedly prices us out. Those who live in cities such as Chicago, Brooklyn, NY and D.C. are very aware that your community can completely change in as little time as a single year. And once it gets hot, the fire spreads faster than you can imagine. We also have an obligation to our communities to bring culture and keep culture in our communities. We need to teach the ones who may have never been taught about social skills and community relationships. We, as black urban professionals need to begin “house-hunting in the hood.” If you look at Harlem New York, the black mecca of YBP’s (young black professionals), you can get a vision of how the rest of urban America should look. I own and live in a beautifully restored greystone multi-unit building that I did myself. The real estate prices in my neighborhood are at dirt-low levels and property can be bought in cash with only a few paychecks. Within the past year, prices have already begun to rise to the to the level where you’ll need to qualify for a loan soon. Which is not very easy these days. I have a great tenant who is also a young college educated professional, holding two degrees who chooses to live “in the community.” Several of my neighbors are hardworking people contributing to the community. Despite what the newspapers write. We have young entrepreneurs that have opened coffee houses, restaurants and other small businesses. We have black professionals in West Garfield Park from all walks of life but we need the numbers to increase ten-fold.

    In other ethnic communities throughout Chicago, there are doctors, store owners, police officers, city employees, plumbers and electricians all living on the same manicured street. When one neighbor needs electrical work done, he barters with the doctor or an electrician etc. They keep the neighborhood intact by helping each other, sharing their given skills when needed. We need to do the same think in our neighborhoods. I encourage all buppie’s to consider living, investing, buying, renting or opening a business in black urban communities. It’s affordable and the slate is clear for talent and opportunity.

    My advice to black urbanites, is to “be the gentrification” or wait until you’ve been gentrified.


  3. CheckingIN, thanks for your comments. I generally agree with your comments about black urbanites needing to make a conscious decision to stay in cities if they wish to gain the benefits of gentrification. We'll see how that plays out.


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