One of my favourite rants – as some would call them – is about “gentrification” and its painful side-effects. The Guardian recently published another article on the subject.* One reader’s comment says it better than I could:
“Gentrification sucks because you end up with these arty media wankers who not only, day in day out, look the other way and ignore the suffering around them, but end up pricing the long standing residents out of areas their family have lived for generations.”
And truly, this is a large problem, one that most wouldn’t spend a moment thinking about. But if we do, surely we can acknowledge the distress of an individual whose identity is very much connected to where he lives. He knows where to find his food; how to get to his doctor; how to get to the train, the bus, to work – if he works; to his pub; and above all, to visit his friends and neighbours he’s known what seems like forever. Basically, he is bonded to it.
Suddenly he can’t afford to live there anymore. And a new home, ideally, would not disturb access to all these destinations – for example if there were adequate public transit. Ah, but he may have to go a very long distance to find something affordable. The familiar will be unfamiliar. He will see those people less and less often. He may have to find a new doctor. He may have to get on a bus to buy his groceries. Yes, any one of these things might have changed even if he stayed there. But the distress comes from everything in one’s life suddenly becoming strange, unfamiliar, challenging. In short, stressful. And much more time-consuming. And if he finds himself sitting around in front of the TV more now, and feeling a little depressed, it may not even occur to him that these are natural byproducts of such a move.
He might find himself slow to make new friends – especially if he is shy or reserved. If he has children, he also has to get them into different schools, and deal with their feelings about it all. Or not – and therefore, is it extra hard on the kids? He’s become impatient with them. A tiny part of what it means to leave your community.
Gentrification is not just a label. It’s a description of a process. And it has an up side – for some. It also has real consequences. For this guy, the meaning of “community” changes forever.
As for me, I’m observing my Roncy in this process now. Here I sense ‘seeds of hope’ for a slightly different outcome. I’m not saying we can prevent this cycle. But I do believe together, with a little caring and creativity, we can change some of it….