Interesting Article in the New York Times about Gentrification and Portland’s Restorative Listening Project

Thanks to Reuben for sending me the article. I can certainly see there are similarities to many neighborhoods in Washington, DC. A taste from the article:

“Yet one person’s frontier, it turns out, is often another’s front porch. It has been true across the country: gentrification, which increases housing prices and tension, sometimes has racial overtones and can seem like a dirty word. Now Portland is encouraging black and white residents to talk about it, but even here in Sincere City, the conversation has been difficult.”

You can read the full article here.

Do you think a listening project would be useful in some of DC’s neighborhoods?

35 Comment

  • ok PoP, after defending some of your less than pleasing postings (beautiful garden of the day my ass…but, you like it so i love el PoP!), it is now my turn to this post a f-ing joke? that article was ridiculous, racist, enraging.. im supposed to feel bad that i live in a house that once belonged to an older black couple who died and their kids didnt want it?

  • Cristobal,

    I think the article lacked some depth, but I’m not sure how you see the article itself as “racist,” though certainly it includes quotes and describes situations that reflect racism. I also don’t see the article saying anything about how you or anyone else should feel bad about how you came to live in your house. To me, the overriding idea in the article is that the city of Portland did not pour money into the “black neighborhood” until whites started to move there or show interest in moving there. I’m sure there’s more to the story than that — which is why I say the article lacked depth — but “ridiculous, racist, enraging” I just don’t get.

  • ‘On Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Northeast, white cyclists in sleek helmets pedal past groups of young black men whose faces are hidden beneath hoodies. Buses rumble by, too, the only transportation alternative for some residents, not just a green alternative.

    “It’s not drug infested, but then you say, ‘Well, what happened to all the black people that were in this area?’ ” said Margaret Solomon, 84, who is black and has lived in the neighborhood for more than 40 years. “You don’t see any.”

    It is a white world now, Ms. Solomon said: “They’re sitting around with their bikes and out on the sidewalks and all that. It’s rough to imagine.”’

    basically this woman is saying (as i read it) that the area is cleaned up (not drug infested) but all the black people are gone… i dont even have to make the assumption that the drug problem was in the black community, as she has laid that out perfectly clear. does that justify trying to keep diversity? what family ever sits around and thinks ‘well, i hope little jenny/jih-yun/jameika grows up with a friend from every color, even if it means that shes exposed to drugs because of it”

    then ms. solomon comments on how ‘they’ (white people) are sitting out on the sidewalks with their bikes and all that… omg, whats ‘all that’? lattes? ikea catalogues? the horrors! if a white woman was lamenting about how ‘they’ (black people) were moving in with their bikes and all that, offended white people would jump that shit in a second, speaking out against the white woman calling her racist and making sure everyone knew that she wasnt speaking for them.

    the opinions in the artlicle are racist… the fact that the article used the quotes it used is ridiculous, and after reading it, i am enraged. better?

  • I don’t know that the issue is race so much as business. When a neighborhood sees rapid growth people want to invest in it, when it’s stagnant and full crime they don’t. It’s just the way capitalism works.

    I don’t see these forums as helping much of anything.

  • oh boy. the-colletive shall we say-reluctance to discuss race and/or race and class in ALL its manifestations is why i think that come january 2009-we will be saying
    president mc cain.

  • I think that some dialog on this matter would be helpful for all concerned.

  • anonymous,
    The reason it isn’t just capitalism is: the black families who wanted to move out of a neighborhood that was stagnant and full of crime couldn’t. The were redlined.
    The reason the neighborhood was stagnant and full of crime was that they didn’t receive the same city resources that people do now.
    Think about it dude

  • Cristobal- Please keep in mind that these same things also happened in Georgetown
    and the West End. Both were neighborhoods with sizeable black populations-and neither was challenged with the scourge of drugs. The Fillmore in San Francisco. I could go on.
    Successful (excuse me, “successful) gentrification does tend to create monochromatic
    neighborhoods. This isn’t a matter of liberal or conservative thinking-it is (again, see Georgetown, The Fillmore) a fact.
    As far as the “racist” tag.. With all due respect, please look up the definition..
    Said definitions and your interpretation of the word are not the same.

  • I’m a native Oregonian (white male) who grew up in and around portland before moving to DC. That article isn’t surprising, since Oregon and Portland both have a less than flattering racial history. Some examples:

    – blacks were forbidden from entering the Oregon territory during pioneer days
    – Oregon was second only to Mississippi in KKK membership in the ’20s and ’30s, and the state actually elected klan members to dominance for a few years. as a result, parochial schools (like the small catholic school i attended as a kid) were shuttered for a few years due to an anti-Catholic sentiment. As a result, Oregon has very strong freedom of speech laws. Those laws are part of the reason why the state has been very popular with white supremacists and racist skinheads – google “Tom Metzger Oregon” for more info
    – Post WWII, a major fire burned down the workers housing built to house blacks who moved to Portland to work in factories related to the war effort. Rather than rebuild or assist in transition, the city basically told the black population to move away.
    – Portland remains the whitest big city in the US and has been for years
    – Many of the original deeds for homes in Portland include terms that prohibit the home from being inhabited by blacks or jews.
    – until just a few years ago (when it was painted over), you could easily make out the faded paint of a swastika on the side of a warehouse in NW portland.

    Reading this article made me recall the bourgeois liberalism of a lot of Portlanders. They are very liberal on race and ethic politics, but only because they rarely, if ever, need to seriously confront race conflict. But they’ll make a real effort if someone points out the problem. Just as an example, remember Chief Moose, the DC top cop of a few years ago? He was Chief of Police in portland before moving here.

    To be honest, though, I can’t say I object to the kind of gentrification going on in north portland – it’s been necessary for years and, truth be told, I’m an agent of gentrification in Columbia Heights.

    Forums would at least get the conversation started, although I don’t see the issue in DC or in Portland being race as much as it is class and poverty. I don’t care if my neighbor is black, asian, latino, or white, but I would like someone invested in the neighborhood and will help suppress street crimes by calling the police.

  • Wonderful post. Oregonian. But everyone says that massive gentrification has nothing to do with race, only class. So is the racial change which can and does occur

  • racism-hatred or intolerance of another race or other races (definition 3 from, and how i interpret it)

    ms solomon seems to be anxious over the influx of whites/dissapearance of blacks in her neighborhood. i would call her comments intolerant towards the new white crowd, as they paint the picture that its somehow bad that the blacks with drugs in her community have been replaced by whites on bicycles.

    anon 1:10..why couldnt black families move out? when youre holding property in an area like dc, where even in the housing crunch, 2 bedroom homes are going for hundreds of thousands of dollars, whats keeping you here? you could buy a house and a car in a nice town a few hours away even if you sold your city property lower than its worth. also, what exactly is the cause and the effect in your scenario… are these areas stagnant and crime filled because the man holds back resources, or does the man hold back resources because the areas are stagnant and full of crime? if communities cleaned up and got their act together, then business and prosperity would come in… why does it take gentrification to do that?

  • Oregonian- Your comment of “Reading this article made me recall the bourgeois liberalism of a lot of Portlanders. They are very liberal on race and ethic politics, but only because they rarely, if ever, need to seriously confront race conflict. But they’ll make a real effort if someone points out the problem.” is, in my opinion, right on the mark. I would put Seattleites in that group too.

  • I think it could also be said that the reason the area was stagnant and full of crime has to also reflect back on the shoulders of the people living there as well. Not everyone, but enough of the residents living there had to be the ones committing these crimes.

  • I challenge the Oregonian to prove the Klan story they posted re: Oregon. My family had servants in Oregon during the pioneer time who were freed during the civil war. Is 1870 not pioneer enough for you?

    Eastern Oregon, as conservative as it is, is pretty racially mixed between white and Umatilla with Latin, Asian and African-American present. Portland? Less diverse, but hardly non-diverse.

  • cristobal-if what you say about businesses and their relationship to communities that “cleaned up their act” was true, then the black middle and upper middle class residents of southern pg county would have not have waited so long for a friggin shopping mall. and they still cant get a major department store to come…

  • The article seems to miss the point. The downside of gentrification is poor residents have to move out of the neighborhood. Where do they go? The article doesn’t say. It seems to suggest that the worst part of gentrification is that those who are left behind are not allowed to live among the race of their choice, which is silly.

    Insofar as gentrification making neighborhoods monochromatic, I suppose, but so does everything else. My grandmother was pushed out of her house in Dorchester (Boston) when banks decided to lower interest rates for houses in that neighborhood. The neighborhood went from Jewish/Irish/Italian to black. It was equally monochromatic before and after. If you mean that gentrification makes neighborhoods white, I guess I agree.

    Insofar as the article not containing the opinions of racists, certainly you can take racism to mean the belief that your own race is better than another, which arguably is not what Ms. Solomon believed. However, whatever you want to call them, her opinions are at least ugly. When I lived in South Boston (a formerly Irish American blue collar neighborhood in Boston) people gave me all sorts of shit for just living there (much more than in Columbia Heights where I am now), because I wasn’t from there and was wealthier than many of the long time residents. No race difference there. Still just as stupid.

    I’m all for listening, but if all I’m going to hear is that I am a horrible person for being wealthy, white and moving into Columbia Heights, I don’t see how it will be helpful.

  • I agree that the quotes in that story from Ms. Solomon are enough to suggest a certain reverse racism, assuming they were printed in context, but that’s just one woman’s perspective and doesn’t taint the article with racism. But it does bring up an interesting point that responds to PoP’s question, and something that should be asked about any such listening project and its possible applicability here.

    The article says “The goal of the project … is to have white people better understand the effect gentrification can have on the city’s longtime black and other-minority neighborhoods by having minority residents tell what it is like to be on the receiving end.” If that really is the goal of the project, it doesn’t suggest dialog so much as a one-way flow of information. I think one of the real problems is that the project, at least as described, doesn’t provide an outlet for gentrifiers to voice their own concerns. Think about that sleek-helmeted white guy buzzing by on his bike. He probably thinks he’s being an upstanding citizen — saving the environment, living in a diverse neighborhood, etc.. What would his reaction be if he knew that some older woman was complaining about him and his ilk to the NYT for no other reason than the color of his skin? Any listening project would be well served to include space for that discussion.

    From my own experience (and certainly I’m with Oregonian in identifying as a ‘local agent of gentrification’), I can tell you nothing makes me bristle more than the rare off-handed comments as I am walking that attack me for nothing other than being a white guy in Columbia Heights. On the flip side, however, nothing made me feel more at home than my elderly black neighbor telling me how happy she was to have me living there instead of the old drug dealer/vacant house that had been her neighbor for 20 years and giving me the whole scoop on the street when I first moved in.

  • SeanC I have to agree with a lot of what you are saying.

    And I think the article itself was more of a problem than anything. It goes to talk about the ugly side of gentrification by making it a race issue, but why does it always have to be about how the new people coming in are so different from the people who leave or stay that were originally there. Why not instead talk about what all the people now in the area new and old have in common and how they can work together to better serve their community. The people who were in the area that chose to stay its seem complain about how they called for change and didn’t get any, but now that they are getting change and businesses coming in they are upset…

  • What is this reverse racism … racism is racism no matter which way it goes, so calling it reverse racism is stupid. How about just plain ugly ole racism!

  • I sometimes wish people would look at gentrification through another lens. Such as the fact that while in the past DC was strictly segregated by race, now people consider far different factors in choosing where to live — affordability, quality of the housing, neighborhood feel, walkability. The end result is that there are far fewer racially segregated parts of the city. Adams Morgan used to be put forth as a special place because it was roughly 1/3 black, 1/3 white, and 1/3 Latino. You could add many more neighborhoods could be added to that list now: Columbia Heights, Shaw, Petworth, Bloomingdale, U Street, 16th Street Heights, East Capitol Hill, Takoma DC, Brightwood, etc.

    Yes, it’s true that many people lose out in gentrification and I dont’ want to dismiss that concern, but on the whole, I think it’s a great positive change that DC is more racially integrated now. I also get tired of the idea that all gentrification is being done by white people. I’m white, but my neighbors on both sides of me are black, and they have also owned their houses less than 5 years and are renovating and fixing them up, and are certainly more well off than the people they bought their houses from. In the end, neighborhoods are getting safer, houses are being fixed up, people are not obsessed with race in deciding where to live.

  • Great point, GeorgiaAve. I always wish people would recognize gentrification as an economic process with obvious consequences — both good and bad — that can be predicted, monitored, channeled, and controlled, rather than making it a dirty word that implies a less-than-savory motive to people who enter a neighborhood as part of that process.

  • I disagree with his sentiments about gentrification as a general matter, but I think that Oregonian gives an accurate depiction of past and current race relations in Portland. I’m a native (SE) and noticed a certain depressing tendency toward tolerance in principle but prejudice in practice. And DCer, while i think that Eastern Oregon has an unfair reputation, I challenge you to prove the diversity you allege. For example, here’s the break down for Malheur County in the 2000 census: 75.78% White, 1.22% Black or African American, 1.02% Native American, 1.96% Asian, 0.08% Pacific Islander, 17.38% from other races, and 2.56% from two or more races.

  • I have to agree with Kalia. I found the article a bit heavy on the reverse racism (and oh boo hoo, yes I know, technically there is no such thing in PC land). Is it really that offensive to people’s sensibilities that white people might be out on bikes? or walking their children? These are all things that build community, that help prevent crime, and really is just people going about their lives. Why should anyone feel obliged to feel guilty about that or need to go to some meeting to justify their wanting to live there?

  • The Oregonian, Portland’s newspaper (not the commenter above), has more on the Restorative Listening Project, including two written pieces and audio interviews. I haven’t had a chance to really look at it yet, but I put this out there for those interested.

  • Whether you like the way the article was written or not, by the variety of answers I see in response, it is more than apparent that some sort of dialogue is very necessary. It doesn’t matter which side of the “issue” you are on. There are obvious misunderstandings and assumptions made and as a result, hurt feelings on both sides.

    Some may feel far removed from obvious racism of the “past”. Some may be oblivious to the assumptions that they currently hold. Some may allow personal bias (and experience) to color their perspectives on new neighbors. Some are unwilling to accept that the actually fit the stereotype they so desparately want to be free of.

    The bottom line is that this shit goes both ways and until we get honest about it and include ALL involved in the discussion, we’ll keep repeating the same pattern and re-inforcing intolerance.

  • Amazing Larry.

    I rarely visit the Oregon desert, but the last time I was there the towns I visited were… filled with majority Umatilla and white people with almost unversally Umatilla and Latin cowboys helping with the sheep. It must have been a fluke and I apologize for drawing too much out of those rare visits.

  • A guy I once worked with grew up in Dupont Circle in the 1950s and 60s told me this about 10 years ago. It’s paraphrased, but I’ve retold it plenty of times and is as accurate as I can remember it:

    When I grew up there it was amazing, it was like the heart of cool black DC. You could go to the park, buy some joints, then smoke them on your porch and no one would care. Then when I came back from college all these fa***ts moved in and wrecked it. My parents didn’t want to live next to that and moved. Now if I tried to buy pot on the circle, 20 white cops would surround me.


    So basically, he WANTED the neighborhood filled with organized crime and he hates gay people enough to move to get away from them.

    That to me sums up anti-gentrification in a nutshell- love of crime and prejudice.

  • Sorry to ask this question again, but what is reverse racism? The act of colonizing white people-transporting them to another country, stripping them of their names, religion, etc?
    The act of denying them bank loans? Injecting them with germs for syphillis experiments?
    Now a lot of my white friends and colleagues are quick to tell me ( and others, I suppose) that black people should-how you say-“get over it” After all, this is
    post-racial America.. I think, however, that any relationship has to include discussion, however painful.
    I think many white Americans accept black people as long as we mute any overtly racial
    feelings-opinions, etc.. Anger is not acceptable (good luck, Obama).
    Anyone who doesn’t attempt to accept the alpha and omega of any human being
    is, in my opinion, not fully acknowledging his or her humanity.
    Yes, I am an angry black man. But don’t worry-I have no personal or professional
    relationship with Senator Obama. Don’t let my opinions sway your votes.

  • Slavery and racism are two related, but different things. Look at slavery outside the USA for some of those concepts.

    Many African-Americans refuse to analyze their own feelings to the extent that white people like myself must continually self-analyze and address racist, sexist, homophobic attitudes within my own head. I worked for a company in 2002 whose HR Rep was A-A and she got fired after saying that a few A-A people didn’t have to take sensitivity training because it was for white people.

    I had a solid friend who grew up on the streets and his attitudes toward Asians was horrible. His attitudes toward Latins wasn’t great. His attitudes toward gay people were pretty awful. and for the few months that we hung out he steadfastly refused to address how or why he thought about people based on the group they belonged to until I basically cut him off because his attitudes were poison.

    I remember being followed around by mall security guards because I was a spiky-haired punk in the 1980s. He was followed around as a teenager because the mall was racist. Yeah. Um… the mall had major problems, but I was still white as a teenager. Sure, one summer he didn’t get a job because no one would hire him, but when that happened to me my mother called all her friends until she found me one. Did his mother do that, or did his mother allow him or encourage him to fail?

    One of my neighbors on the street is suffering from some kind of dementia and her daughter told my wife that she has highly elevated lead levels in her blood, but they don’t know where they’re from. I’m sure they’re from that family not performing lead abatement on their 100 year old house.

  • And I guess what I meant by the lead example is that there are roadblocks that people sometimes put in front of themselves that ruin their lives.

  • DCer. You seem to be implying that there may be some distance, however miniscule, between slavery and racism…. I’d suggest reading some of the justifications
    for the slave trade. (which benefitted this country as surely as our penchant for excess
    is killing us) . I would also suggest that things many whites say and do everyday
    are also the result of insensitivity… For example, when you or your peers use the
    term “sketchy”-what are you really describing?

  • Anonymous at 9:58a:

    I am not sure what you mean. Are you blaming me (a white man) for injecting black people with syphilis, transporting black slaves here in the 1700-1800’s and stripping them of their names? That I denied loans to black people? Are you suggesting that I think that those actions were good or somehow OK?

    You can “get over it” or not. Be angry about it or not. I frankly do not care.

    However if you are looking for an apology from me for things that I have not done, you are going to be waiting for a long time.

    This is a good example of the “dialog,” that I think is pointless, painful or otherwise.

  • Hey all,

    This is an awesome forum. so sorry that I dropped out of the convo for a while. For those of you who asked for responses, here goes:

    – rueben: I certainly don’t think race and class are totally unrelated. The Oregonian article does a great job of showing how Portland seems to be discriminating in small biz loans, but i’d wonder if there’s a qualitative difference in the loans and if the city is focusing on “quality of life” businesses like restaurants, etc. In terms of the race/class dynamic, the correlation seems nearly absolute in Portland. Again, fessing up a white guy, I was genuinely shocked when I moved to DC by the diversity of the black community. In Portland, nearly all the blacks I knew or encountered were low income, hip hop style folks. The only middle class or wealthy blacks i knew of in portland were either sports casters or Trail Blazers.

    – Parkwood Person: Seattle’s a lot like Portland in that way. Much less of a white enclave though, but mostly because of the huge and diverse Asian community.

    – DCer, you got a couple points in there.

    On the klan, I suggest:
    The Klan governor was Walter Pierce (D). It’s also notable that Fred Meyer (yes, Mr. One-Stop-Shopping) was vilified by the Klan for fighting their racism and Americanization efforts.

    On limiting blacks in the territory:

    (And no, the 1870s aren’t pioneer enough for me. Oregon became a state in 1859, had telegraph in the 1850s, and the transcontinental railroad was finished in 1869. I’m talkin’ covered wagon days.)

    On eastern Oregon: I definitely think of Umatilla, Nez Perce, Klamath, and latinos there. Blacks, not so much, unless maybe you’re talking Bend or Hood River? But then, we’re talking about North Portland here and white/black relations, not other ethnicities.

    Finally, for everyone. PBS broadcast a great movie on gentrification called “Flag Wars” that particularly focuses on the role of “Urban Pioneers” (mostly gays and lesbians) and how they use different tools of law enforcement and regulation to impose change on their mostly black, mostly poor, mostly neighbors.

  • Here’s my thoughts on the term “sketchy” that someone asked about. I don’t think it has anything to do with race or color. We used the term growing up (70s, 80s, 90s and still going) in a city that was 99% white (I’m guessing) and, hence, only directed at people there who were also white or areas inhabited with whites, no race or even class connotations whatsoever. We used it simply to mean something was not quite right, or slightly suspicious, or possibly wrong/criminal/evil but unprovable, or even just “icky.” Examples: “That run down building looks pretty sketchy to me.” “I wouldn’t want to work for him. He seems kinda sketchy.”
    If the word has deeper meaning or baser origins, it was lost on me and most of my peers.

  • Anon 9:58am

    No, I don’t think black people should “just get over it”. That is a roll over and take it approach, but hating white people back for what they did and do to you is racist since not all white people did/do it. Lumping them all together isn’t fair, its racist. Treating some white person on the street like they are garbage because some other white person was a dick to you and didn’t approve your loan is not justified. That would be like me getting attacked by someone and then going to his house and punching his mom. What did she have to do with it? Its like when people say “black people can’t be racist”. Why because “white people” did it first? Well if you hit me and I hit you back, was my retaliation null and void because you did it first? NO, we both hit each other. Reverse racism is a term that really only serves to promote more racism by making the people feel that its ok to be racist because it makes you feel you have an excuse since you were the victim first. And no I am not white.

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