Gentrify this

Folks with cash are moving into Detroit — finally, but very slowly — and a symposium of professors says, “Bring it on!”

Can it be done without forcing poor people out? That was the key question last week at a Wayne State University conference titled: Gentrification in Detroit: Renewal or Ruin?

For the record, to gentrify, according to Webster’s, means “to convert a deteriorated or aging area in a city into a more affluent middle-class neighborhood, as by remodeling dwellings, resulting in increased property values and in displacement of the poor.”

Obviously, that last part gives many pause. But as Wayne State urban affairs professor Dr. George Galster pointed out: “In Detroit, the missing piece isn’t the low-income folks. It’s the high-income folks.” The trick, says Galster and the others, is figuring a way to get in upper- and middle-class residents without forcing out the under-class. “We should strive for creation of mixed-income communities,” he said.

And while many think of gentrification as a race thing, as in rich white people move in, poor black people move out, that’s not been the case in Detroit, says Cliff Schrupp, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit. Here, the little gentrification that does take place is African-Americans with money replacing African-Americans without money.

Meanwhile, Dr. John Betancur, a professor of urban economic development, says it’s nearly impossible to revitalize without moving people out. “The dynamic of gentrification, unfortunately, is that housing prices go up … taxes go up. I don’t see how you can avoid the dynamic of the market.”

Hogwash to all of it, says Isaac David, a Cass Corridor resident who likes the city just as it is. David asked the professors if we couldn’t move toward a different philosophy, one in which “there’s a place for decay. A place where the self is allowed to run free because there’s so little else around you.”

Yes, David, there is such a place. Unfortunately, it’s called Wyoming.

Lisa M. Collins is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]
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