For many years now, gentrification has been sweeping through the streets of New York, landing in certain neighborhoods and communities, and changing the topical and cultural makeup of the area. By definition, gentrification is the process of renovating an area, often deteriorating or slightly under kept, in the hopes of attracting more affluent residents. While the Wikipedia definition can make gentrification sound like a bland, routine process, in reality, it affects all those involved, and is a very controversial topic.
Gentrification can happen in many ways. Often, it is through the construction of newer structures and buildings, or the paving and cleaning up of streets to make them more desirable. But, as a 1984 article from the New York Times demonstrates, sometimes the gentrification process starts with a simple name change. As the article states, “We call it the East Village- it sounds better’ said Richard Pergolis, of Pergolis-Schwartz, a Manhattan-based mortgage brokerage. ‘As soon as they said ‘East Village,’ they tripled the rent’” (Belkin). There is a similar thing happening now, with a real estate driven push to rename the South of Harlem “SoHa,” to make it more appealing to richer renters. The danger with reinventing an area is that it loses some of its character, culture, and history. The region is essentially white-washed, and all the things that once made it unique, like the LGBT and minority communities that used to reside in the East Village, are driven out. As PBS explains, “neighborhood change is often viewed as a miscarriage of social justice, in which wealthy, usually white, newcomers are congratulated for ‘improving’ a neighborhood whose poor, minority residents are displaced” (PBS).
Many artists and performers over the years have used their art to lament the changing demographics and identities of their communities. Red Tape, for example, an artistic magazine that circulated in the 1980’s, featured many poems by the editor Michael Carter, who complained and disparaged over gentrification in the East Village.
Belkin, Lisa. “THE GENTRIFICATION OF THE EAST VILLAGE.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Sept. 1984.
“What Is Gentrification?” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 17 Jan. 2003.