Gentrification: What Does the Future Hold for Riverwest?

by Sonya Jongsma Knauss This article and those on page 7 are the first installment in an ongoing series where the Riverwest Currents will look at issues of neighborhood gentrification.

It’s a familiar pattern in nearby neighborhoods — you don’t have to look much further than Brewer’s Hill, Brady Street, Walker’s Point… all places that have undergone “gentrification” in recent years. It’s the same old story. Middle-class and affluent people move in because a neighborhood starts cleaning up and becoming more alive. Perhaps some residents of the neighborhood have been working hard to make it a better place to live and raise their kids. Maybe they’ve organized block clubs and neighborhood watches. They’ve shut down the crack houses and cut back on crime. They’re proud of where they live, and they want to take good care of it. Paradoxically, some of these very people get priced out of their neighborhood once it starts looking better to the rest of the city. The local media begins to talk about the neighborhood as a great place to live, property values skyrocket, houses are snapped up as soon as they go on the market, and the little neighborhood, which once boasted much diversity and interest for all kinds of people, starts to change. It becomes harder for struggling young families, single mothers, and starving artists to make their monthly rent payments. “Our mission of diversity and affordability for the neighborhood is being jeopardized,” said Riverwest Neighborhood Association (RNA) Development Committee chair Jerry Patzwald said at last month’s RNA meeting. While there has been talk for years about the possible gentrification of Riverwest, many Riverwesters feel the changes taking place lately look to be “the real thing.” By now a cliché, those “well-heeled empty nesters and young professionals,” many of whom are fresh from the suburbs, are snapping up condos and houses in the Commerce Street developments, just south of Riverwest. Everywhere you look, there are new condo development signs going up. Property assessments are increasing, and land is selling for many times its assessed worth. So what’s in store for Riverwest? This is what the Currents will be exploring in an ongoing series on gentrification. The neighborhood association is beginning an ongoing discussion of gentrification issues as well. At last month’s meeting, Vince Bushell presented one alternative housing option for residents to think about. Forming a community land trust, a tactic that has been used successfully in some neighborhoods to keep prices down, will be a topic of discussion at next month’s meeting on June 18. George Singleton, co-chair of the RNA, encourages neighbors to come together and keep their roots in this community. “For gentrification to occur, you need to push one group of people out,” he says. “If people stay in the community, it won’t be as much of a threat.” Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 5 – June 2002