Manifest Destiny, What is it? Manifest Destiny was the 19th-century belief of the colonists that the expansion of the US throughout the American continents was both justified and inevitable. Colonists believed that it was God’s ordained wish that all of North America from ocean to ocean, including Mexico and Canada, soon belong to them. This was used as justification for US Domestic Policy towards the Natives while moving west. It was used as justification for violently seizing control of California and Texas from Mexico. It was also used as justification for invading and attacking Canada after 1812, which many Americans were never taught about. It would seem a tad bit harsh to compare this to gentrification.
Many see gentrification as the revitalization of poor inner city areas into thriving middle class urban communities. However, when it’s examined with a closer lens one can see that gentrification and revitalization are not quite the same. Gentrification comes with a price. Gentrification is the process in which high income investors buy into low income urban neighborhoods in an attempt to capitalize on low property values. This process results in an inflation of property values which displaces the low income inhabitants who all in entirety can no longer afford to live there. It also displaces the culture and character that bonded the community together. Displacing the people and erasing the culture of entire communities is the price of gentrification.
It would be a mistake to look at gentrification as a racial issue. Those who mention gentrification as the reversal of 20th century “White flight” do not quite have a complete understanding of the issue. However, due to fact that the low-income urban neighborhoods being gentrified are most often filled with Black and/or Hispanic inhabitants and replaced with middle class White inhabitants, race does make its way into the issue. Race removal is a result of gentrification but not a cause or reason for its initiation. Racism is not a heavy factor when it comes to the issue. Blacks are often on the opposition of gentrification for the reason that their neighborhoods & cultures are being erased and dispersed through it. Neighborhoods like Harlem, Washington D.C, Brooklyn, and Atlanta are losing their Black population as we speak. As well as so many other inner cities.
I’m an Atlanta native myself and I can recall around 2008 when the city forced thousands of Black families to move out without providing an alternative option for low income housing. They were simply kicked out and told to find somewhere else to live. Housing projects like Bowen Homes, Bankhead Courts, etc. were emptied and bulldozed down to the ground. Their plan was to turn the ghetto of Atlanta, Bankhead (a long highway in which these housing projects were located), into a middle class neighborhood by the near future. The city even changed the street name from Bankhead Hwy to Donald Lee Hollowell Pkwy to make it unrecognizable to those who knew it as their home. Instead of building up poor communities for the less fortunate who live there public and private investors are building neighborhoods up and forcing the poor who live there to find another home somewhere far away.
How does this change the culture of Atlanta? Simple, Atlanta for the last 20 years has been known as the “Black mecca” of America, much like Harlem was known during the Harlem Renaissance of culture. Atlanta has also been known as the international headquarters of this new music called Rap and Hip Hop, also much like Harlem with Jazz during the Harlem Renaissance. With the current gentrification trends it’s sad to say that this will not be the case 10 years from now. Atlanta’s Black population in 2000 was 61.4% and dropped all the way down to 54.0% by 2010 and is still dropping. In 2009, Atlanta was 714 votes short of electing its first non-black mayor since 1974. Intown Atlanta neighborhoods are being gentrified, such as East Atlanta and the Old Fourth Ward, ghettos are replaced with upscale homes. Whites are moving into these upscale homes & this causes a movement of blacks into rural cities and adjacent suburbs. Atlanta’s Black hip hop culture will be unrecognizable maybe even non-existent in the coming future.
What’s even more devastating than losing a culture is the disinvestment that is soon to come as a result of gentrification. We can take a quick view at history and it will give us insight on our near and far future to come. In the mid-20th century Blacks began to move away from the south and into inner cities looking for jobs and better opportunities at the American dream. This was the cause of “White flight” which was a migration of Whites out of racially mixed urban areas. As a result, disinvestment began in the racially mixed inner city communities. This was the time, as Spike Lee says, where the trash wasn’t picked up every day and the police didn’t make sure the communities were protected. Now, through gentrification these neighborhoods are being reinvested in and they are protected and have daily trash pickups but the poor no longer live there. The poor now are either homeless or are being moved to suburbs and back to the south. As a result of such focus on inner city communities suburban and rural areas are being dis-invested in and this will be the trend for decades to come. The suburbs will now become the ghettos with high crime and poor schools who get no investment from public or private sectors. The same maltreatment of the poor continues simply in a new location. It’s important to understand this. Gentrification is doing no good for the low income inner city families it claims to be helping.
What about the few households who don’t rent, the urban homeowners? Does not the property value increase benefit them? Before investors can rebuild a neighborhood there has to be a plan in place years ahead of time. These years before the matter is usually the time investors spend buying out the property in planned area. The majority of the property owned by the natives of the area is bought out before the gentrification even begins. The stubborn last minority are the ones aware of the property value increase soon to come. However, what also comes with the higher property values is higher prices on everything else. Gas, clothes, groceries, property tax, bills, even daily lunch becomes more expensive while income stays the same. They find themselves in a situation where they can no longer afford to live in the area and the property is sold before the full potential of the property value increase is met. Not even the minority of inner city homeowners benefit from gentrification.
What does all of this mean and how does it tie in with manifest destiny? As I stated before gentrification is not a racial issue although it may seem that way to many in America. It’s more of a western ideology problem. Gentrification is happening all across western civilization. San Francisco, East London, Berlin, Soho, Barcelona, Rio, Portland are just a few other cities to name. Many call this problem an effect of the “Columbus syndrome”. When you so-called discover something that the natives there already knew about you have Columbus syndrome. Symptoms of the Columbus syndrome are infiltrating the land in which the natives live because it interests you, forcing them out, making it your new home, taking things from their culture and calling it your own. If you experience any of these symptoms call your doctor. In all seriousness, it sounds a lot like what happened to the Natives of our country. At the same time, it sounds a lot like what’s happening via gentrification. Manifest destiny was the coherently evil and violent removal of inhabitants of newly found land. Gentrification is the incoherent economic removal of inhabitants of reinvested land. In this way the two don’t compare but the similarities are striking. I’ll leave you with this question. Do the benefits of gentrification outweigh the consequences? If not, let us fight to regulate the gentrification process.