Neighborhood Intel

Can "self-gentrification" help communities stay ahead of predatory development?

By Virginia K. Smith | December 6, 2016 - 12:59PM 

Much ink has been spilled in the last year or two over the rapid-fire gentrification of the South Bronx, an area many developers are banking on as the next major hub for artists priced out of Brooklyn. And while one often hears about locals battling against their neighborhood's development, one prominent Bronx local is banking on a different strategy for the neighborhood's future: "self-gentrification."

In the latest episode of Slate's Placemakers podcast, host Rebecca Sheir talks to Majora Carter, a born-and-bred South Bronx resident who now works on sustainable development and who's aiming to create better circumstances that will simultaneously improve quality of life, while encouraging neighborhood residents to put down roots. Having grown up during the "Bronx is burning" era, Carter explains that young South Bronx residents "were taught to measure success by how far we got away from our community."

This phenomenon, Carter says, leads to "brain drain" in neighborhoods, and makes them more vulnerable to the forces of gentrification in the long run. "I personally think that gentrification happens long before you see white people moving into these neighborhoods," Carter says in the episode. "It starts when we tell the hardworking smart kids that they need to measure success by how far away they get from their communities." Then, when outsiders start looking at the community as a development opportunity, she explains, "We're the first to say 'oh sure, I'll sell it to you for next to nothing.' They're thinking about the long game and we're thinking that we need to get out of this place because it's so horrible." 

A similar phenomenon has been at play in areas like Bed-Stuy, where community groups have started actively encouraging longtime residents to hang onto their properties as valuable family assets.

To strengthen the existing community in the South Bronx, Carter has helped found a new neighborhood park, as well as Birch Coffee, a cafe intended to serve as a neighborhood hub. She's also worked on job creation initiatives, such as "Startup Box," which hires local gamers for software testing, a forthcoming restaurant incubator.

Though Carter has faced backlash from some locals who think she's encouraging gentrification, as she puts it,  "I don't want to be associated with a group of people who are only pushing against something and not for something. We want to show that you don't have to move out of your neighborhood to live in a better one."

Listen to the full podcast episode here, and see Carter's two Ted Talks on green local development here.


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