More specifically: A few weeks ago, I was talking to a native Philadelphian who asked me in passing where I lived. When I told her, she gave me a long look and said, "Girl, you in the hood."
"Yeah," I answered. "I guess so."
My neighborhood is poor. One can see this by just looking around, but since you all are not (necessarily) in Philadelphia, here are some quick facts about my little corner of the world:
-The average per capita income is in the bottom 3% of all U.S. neighborhoods.
-56.4% of children in my neighborhood live in poverty.
-Most people in my neighborhood work in retail or service jobs.
-The real estate vacancy rate is about 27%.
But, by definition, I'm still part of the gentrification problem. I'm middle-class, making enough money to pay my bills (including those dastardly grad school loans) and save a little. I grew up middle-class as well; my mom's a graphic designer and my dad's a social worker, and while we were never wealthy, we had enough to live on, put food on the table, and go on camping trips once in a while. Now, I live in a rowhouse that my roommate owns with two other single women. We raise the property rates just by being there. And, in a country where race and class are often closely associated, add all of this to the fact that I'm a white girl living in a mostly African-American neighborhood, and the issue becomes…complicated.
One of the "success" stories that I hear sometimes is the Penn-Alexander school, which is in West Philly but south of where I live. The University of Pennsylvania partnered with the Philadelphia School District to form a Pre-kindergarten-8th grade (ages 4 to 14ish, for the non-USians among us) school. It is a success, at least in terms of education, and it's a public school, which is great. But over the years, the taxes and real estate prices in "Penn-Alexander catchment area" have skyrocketed and have pushed many of the original residents out. From all accounts, it still is a diverse school. And many times, families who move out of the area lie on their records just to keep their kids at Penn-Alexander, which says something about the quality of the other public schools in the area.
There's a conundrum here. I want Philadelphia, as a whole, to succeed. I want it to be a city that thrives, that has good schools and green spaces and safe areas to live. But I don't want that to happen at the expense of those who have lived here for years. That would be progress on the backs of the poor.
And that brings me back to my personal dilemma. My neighborhood has its challenges. I get harassed sometimes on the street (that is a whole 'nother post that might be a companion to this one). Sometimes public transportation can be difficult, especially at night and on the weekends. And, yeah, I can distinguish between gunfire and firecrackers easily now. But I like living where I do.
But the question that bothers me is the broader one: can I justify living here when I know that I'm contributing to gentrification?
I don't exactly have an answer to that.
Last year, the blog The DCentrist published a post called "Five Ways to Be a Good Gentrifier". When I looked around for reactions to the piece, I found one on a blog called Post-Bourgie that argued, in part, these were rules for being a good neighbor, not a good gentrifier.
Ultimately, that that is what I want to be: a good neighbor. I'm a visitor in a lot of ways. I realize that my living where I do is not, in and of itself, an expression of solidarity. But if I am to keep living here-and I'm planning on it-I need to be able to put down roots that last. When I read the blog post about gentrification, I recognized myself in some ways: we use the front porch in the summer; we talk (and listen) to our neighbors; if we need something quick, we use the little corner market around the street.
I think that's a good start, but I don't think that it answers my question. I'm not sure that it needs to; still, I'm bothered by the social, economic, and racial implications that gentrification, and my part in it, raises.
 This information is from NeighborhoodScout.com. I'm not sure if this is all up-to-date or accurate, but it's pretty hard to get data on my actual neighborhood instead of West Philadelphia as a whole.↩
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