Kirkwood: Gentrification and Me

There’s no disputing it. The neighborhood of Kirkwood, east of downtown Atlanta and west of the city of Decatur, is

turning white. Not the houses. Well, lately, somewhat the houses. (Of the six new construction homes erected in the area around my house, four of them arescreen-shot-2016-10-03-at-1-41-33-pm.) But I’m talking about the people.

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My street alone (a two-block street bookended by a bend into another street and a T intersection) has seen the demolition of six single story homes in the last two years. Replacing these? Two-story behemoths with open floor plans and price tags the size of Montezuma. Of the six new home owners on the street (there are two homes still under construction), only one family is black. Used to be the whole street was black. Now the only black folk on the street live in the small brick houses that need some serious care and investment. You can almost guess the race of the people who live in the homes just by their size and state of renovation. (And this is what institutional racism looks like.)

Screenshot: realtor.com 10/3/2016 Kirkwood

Screenshot: realtor.com 10/3/2016 Kirkwood

Screenshot: realtor.com 10/3/2016 Kirkwood

Screenshot: realtor.com 10/3/2016 Kirkwood

 

Across from me live Ronnie and Brenda. They’ve lived in their little brick number for over fifty years. From the shade of their screened-in front porch, they tell awesome stories of how the neighborhood used to be. Not long ago actually, when I walked over to take Miss Brenda some bacon-wrapped dates I’d made (she’d never had them before), they asked if Joe could bring his mother by to see our house. Joe’s mother was in her eighties now but raised twelve children in our little two-bedroom brick number on the hill. When Joe was a kid he used to play with Ronnie and Brenda’s kids in the street, running up into each others’ yards. Joe now lives somewhere in Gwinnett County but found himself in Atlanta for business, driving down our street, reminiscing. He saw the renovation they’d done on our house and thought his mother would be amazed to see it now. So Ronnie relayed to Joe that we’d be happy to give them a tour.

Twelve children. Impossible to imagine raising so many kids in our “cute” little house.

Screenshot: realtor.com 10/3/2016 Kirkwood

Screenshot: realtor.com 10/3/2016 Kirkwood

But though our house is small, it’s been renovated with high-end finishings. It wasn’t easy for us to afford our house, what with really only one income. We are staunchly middle class. These days, with each big house that goes up, even we have been priced out of our street; we’d never be able to afford to live here today.

Gentrification: a process of renovation and revival of deteriorated urban neighborhoods by means of influx of more affluent residents, which results in increased property values and the displacing of lower-income families and small businesses. (Click for some more interesting reading.)

Technically, there isn’t anything racial about gentrification. But this is how racism often works: in disguise. And what is lost is so valuable: exchange. Culture. Knowledge.Humanity. Empathy. Kirkwood is experiencing a white-washing for sure, and I’m sad to see my neighbors look more and more like me. I wonder, too, where people go when they’re priced out of their neighborhoods. Gwinnett County is so far away. It’s difficult to imagine how we’re supposed to “come together” to celebrate our diversity when were designed, via infrastructure and economics, to be separate.

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