Written by David Nazario
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines gentrification as "the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper or middle-income families or individuals, thus improving property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses."
Doesn’t sound that bad right? The problem arises when those same people who have a genuine interest in the culture that make living in a place like Brooklyn, New York or Reading, PA so attractive to them, begin to dismiss that culture and appropriate it for their own gain. This is usually done without regard to those cultural norms and traditions that made them want to live, work, or own property in this urban dwelling in the first place.
This story is playing out all over the country right now – the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The quality of life isn’t improving, and black and brown people are being pushed out of their homes and communities due to increased rent and an influx of newcomers with more money and more access to resources to make money.
So let’s talk solutions. Here are three positive and strategic ways to be a part of the inevitable gentrification that is taking place here in our city.
1. Keep Your Culture Alive and Show Up at Events!
No one knows your culture or how to improve your city better than you do. When people who look like you have events in your downtown area or anywhere in the city for that matter, try your best to show up. Make it a point to attend an event at Mi Casa Su Casa, or Custom It, or Barrio Alegria. These establishments need you, and you need them too.
When Edna Garcia-Dipini (Dance On The Streets), or Samantha Thompson (First Friday) have an event you need to make an effort to attend. And when you go to the event don’t be afraid to spend a few dollars either. When you spend money in your community, you’re spending money on yourself. Network too. And if there’s music playing, dance, that wall doesn’t need you to hold it up, move somethin’.
2. Work Toward Being Self-Sufficient; Consider Buying or Renting Property and Starting A Business
The city is slowly but surely being renovated; we need people who have a real vested interest in this city to be a part of these renovations. Now is the time to invest in yourself and that business that you’ve always wanted to start. Take that leap of faith and open something that will benefit the city while also putting you in the position to be your own boss. Owning a businesses allows you to cultivate culture and have a say in the way that money is being spent in the city. Renting a property to house your business is also a viable option. The Kutztown University Small Business Development Center and SCORE are great resources to help you get started.
3. Get Involved With Local Politics
This one almost didn’t make the list. If it were up to me we would work toward overthrowing this whole corrupt system, and start this whole shit all over again. But it’s not up to me. I understand that there is real value in having actual residents who graduated from Reading High School sit in some of these seats and serve on some of these boards; it’s just not my thing. If you think it might be yours, educate yourself and seriously consider running for some type of office. Or, help out someone like Carissa Johnson, Brad Waples, or Sam Bryant win their elections. When city natives with real concerns sit in these seats we are better able to navigate things like gentrification and the recycling of poverty.
One other thing - if you’re representing a candidate that you know is not the best and most qualified for the job because it serves your own selfish self interests, or only advocating for Latinos because you’re Latino, or Blacks because your Black, do us all a favor and cut that out. No tenemos tiempo para eso.