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Facing Gentrification

When my family moved into this neighborhood almost two years ago, it was to escape the high rent on the East Side and get out of apartment living. We were tired of living in a noisy building full of college students, and we wanted a bigger space for our growing family. We found a little rear house that fit the bill. Plenty of space for our work and our girls, with a nice location — close to the bus line and close to two parks. We felt that we’d be at home in Riverwest, with its variety of people, places to go, and things to do. Growing up in a small, fairly homogenous town, I was used to seeing well-kept houses and neatly manicured lawns. The trash accumulation on lawns, both on the East Side and here, has always bothered me. So when we first moved here, gentrification didn’t sound too bad. I figured it would be nice to live in a more attractive, cleaner Riverwest. I think it’s great when people take enough pride in the place they live to keep it up. Some of my neighbors regularly pick up trash from the corner store that ends up on their front lawn. I’ve seen another neighbor sweeping up broken glass out of the alley. I’ve picked up my share of small chip bags blowing in the breeze. But there’s a difference between putting work into a place and turning it into something else. According to many of the articles floating around in local media recently, Riverwest is a neighborhood bound for gentrification. And while that can have its benefits, there’s a downside too. Where will long-time neighborhood residents go for housing they can afford? I’m disturbed by the property assessment hikes that will drive some people out of the neighborhood. I’m worried about single-parent families and those on fixed incomes. I don’t know how much longer my own family will be able to afford the rent if prices continue to rise so dramatically. Fighting gentrification, as it usually happens, doesn’t mean rejecting or looking at with animosity any newcomers who move in and seem to be part of some sort of “improvement project.” Neither does it mean trying to keep yards and houses that look unwelcoming. What it does mean is that we should use all the resources we can to insure the sustainability of a diverse and affordable housing base which allows currents residents to continue living here. As Riverwest residents, we need to come together and identify our neighborhood within the city as a positive place where incomes and ethnic backgrounds vary widely–a neighborhood where families, schools, churches, and cultural organizations work together for the common good without pushing out the working poor or minorities. This is a community that should earn the pride, respect, and support of the city, its leaders, and its developers. Developers need to take affordable housing needs seriously, and stop spinning 250,000 condos as “affordable” first homes. Riverwest needs to do more to live up to its ideal self. It also needs to establish a voice in the local media that is not reactionary or hostile toward change but willing to deal with it while protecting its own interests and residents. –Sonya Jongsma Knauss Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 5 – June 2002