The Crusader Newspaper Group


Gentrification has been around for a long time, and it will continue to exist as long as capitalism is embraced, and as long as social class divisions exist. Basically, gentrification is the targeting of low-income communities for “redevelopment” by middle and upper income individuals who buy and renovate property in deteriorated urban neighborhoods.

When driving around certain blighted urban areas, it might seem to be a no-brainer that these areas should be given a facelift. But, as with everything, there is an “up” side and a “down” side to gentrification.

The “up” side is that these areas will receive much-needed attention that will bring them out of the sociological and real estate doldrums. The “down” side, however, is that low income people and small businesses are almost always pushed out of these communities due to rising property taxes and a new influx of community residents with greater resources.

This usually turns out to be an “either/or” proposition; in other words, either gentrification happens and community property and quality of life in those communities increase, OR gentrification does not happen and the communities devolve until the remaining residents who desire a better quality of community life leave those who are less economically viable behind. Eventually, property is lost, and businesses are pushed out in the end, paving the way for gentrification.

The question that can be asked is whether or not gentrification is always “bad.” There is no doubt that as long as land is a valuable commodity there will be those who want to acquire it. Most community residents in deteriorated neighborhoods would probably prefer a better environment. It’s just that they don’t want to be pushed out of their homes and businesses.

There is a possible solution to this conundrum. It involves community empowerment. It involves Kujichagulia, the second of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. It involves self-determination. It involves people in a community coming together to help control what happens in their community.

One example of this strategy has been offered by a group in Chicago in response to the new Obama Presidential Library (and a Tiger Woods Golf Course). Many residents are scared of this new development, even though it will bring much needed resources into the community. They are concerned that they will be by-passed by these resources and pushed out of their homes. They feel powerless in the face of a potential take-over. But it doesn’t have to end this way. There is power in unity. When the people come together, nothing can defeat them.

The Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement Coalition has come together and offered a viable plan to ensure that the community benefits from the new library. They have offered a common-sense platform that should be embraced and that could result in a win-win situation for both developers and community residents.

Basically, they have requested the following Community Benefits Agreement (CBA): require that jobs be set aside for people in communities around the Obama presidential center; protect low-income housing and home owners; support and create Black businesses, and strengthen neighborhood schools.

These are reasonable requests from any community that wants to protect its own interests. President Obama, however, has declined to put his muscle behind it. Though this can be perceived as an obstacle, it is not an impenetrable one. If community residents come together with one voice and demand these very basic items, they will be a formidable force!

The community can win this one, and if they do, the CBA model can serve as a blueprint for dealing with gentrification in depressed communities across the nation. It could become the cornerstone of community empowerment, but only if the community remains unified and persists in their demands!

The refusal of the powers-that-be to honor a CBA is a threat to Kujichagulia, self-determination. But it is only a threat, and threats can be faced head on, and overcome! Now is the time to test our mettle. A Luta Continua.

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