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  • Helms Jarrell

Fail Better Soon: Resisting Gentrification

There's a privacy fence going up next door. Since when were privacy fences an aesthetically pleasing thing? We all know they do nothing to bring community together. They are not ingredients in the recipe for neighborliness. When someone was growing up, did they wish and hope for a privacy fence to call their very own? Did they think that if they were lucky, perhaps they'd be able to have one in both the front and back yards? I just don't get it.


Clearly, we lost the fight.


I'm not sure why I feel the need to list all the things we did, all the effort we made to win.

There was artivism, community organizing, home repairs for tenants, home repairs for home owners, door to door campaigns, education materials, developing a land trust, acquiring what little land our organization could, books written, articles written, a twitter account dedicated to saying NOPE to speculation investment, bumper stickers, rallying children, music performances, art exhibits, workshops, charrettes, organizational partnerships....


A few years ago, an article went out about us that said something that was misleading about how we were the "last folks" resisting displacement in Enderly Park. Well, that's not true at all, and we got called on it...internet dragged, which was hard to take. So, I get nervous naming that we were in the fight at all. I don't want to overstate my role or my place, but I cannot pretend as though we didn't make many attempts at many different levels of impact.


We knew capitalism would win. We knew racism would win. We still fought and gathered and spoke and walked and tried.


The weird ill-fit place that we're in makes it hard to know what to call this kind of grief. And I have all sorts of questions like: Are we allowed to grieve? Does our place in this whole mess make it no right for us to feel loss? What do we do with all the loss? Where do we put it? How do we get out of it, if at all?


My son's best friend, who lived two doors down from us, lost his home just over a year ago and now lives in a car, sometimes a hotel. The home that he was evicted from is listed on zillow for $419k. What do we do with that?


My son tried to raise money for his friend to buy a house. He did it all on his own and raised a little over four hundred dollars. Oh, and the new renovation includes a pot filler, whatever that is.


Clearly, we lost the fight.




Here's a recent journal entry...


The amount of change and loss that has taken place in the neighborhood is overwhelming. Physical change- wealth taking up space and occupying land and access. Where we once had nothing, now they have everything. so many people gone- social fabric, natural helping networks frayed. New people arriving and wanting more police state, more "privacy," more beauty for themselves.

There are more and more of them on my morning walks each day. They jog up the street, push their strollers, walk their dogs and don't even speak. They don't raise a hand or wave. Nothing. What is that? Who does that? and why?

What is my role as someone who has the luxury to stay? I have the luxury to grieve while others had to leave. I "get" to notice the changes whereas others had to move on.

Some of the things I am grieving are selfish. I built a life around this place and these people and it is all now changing and I have no control, no power, no access.

I got a poisonous email from the newly re-membered neighborhood association. It was so terrible: encouraging folks to call the police.

The neglected apartments down the street got a new coat of paint today. They have a new name too. Everything is being painted either white or black. They are the gentrifying colors of the last two years.

The loss- right or wrong to feel it- still feels big, sad, defeating...and nearly paralyzing.

What do we do with this complex grief? What do we do about our ill-fittedness within this experience? What do we do about our sense of wanting and calling to be neighborly, kind, and welcoming? Are there repairs that are even possible?

Let me tell you what I hate. I hate zillow. I hate privacy fences. I hate NextDoor App. I hate that I know the neighbors that were displaced and now the new neighbors are here and they don't seem to know or care about the story they are a part of. I hate that there is no where to put this hate and grief.

I also want to tell the prospective new neighbors that the sod is going to die because the tree only shades that who front yard. I want to tell them that if they don't get out there right now, their entire back yard is going to be a Kudzu kingdom in about five days. I want them to know about the neglected driveway that used to be there and how no tenant could actually park in it because it was so broken up by the roots of the tree. I want them to know about the pokemon sticker that was left on the wall when the family was evicted.

I blame a lot of things and people, including myself. I tell myself I didn't do enough. If I could just speak the right language and raise money the way, apparently, all directors of nonprofits are supposed to know how to do, we could have bought that house for the family that lived there. I tell myself that if I would just play the game the way the game is supposed to be played, that I could have manipulated a way through.

I especially blame the city. They continue to let properties be uninhabitable and abandoned and they continue to allow capital to drive property use. I'm thinking about the two houses on Tuckaseegee that have been boarded up for 16 years, the giant church building that has been abandoned for so many years I can't count. The city could have given this over to the community to use, to enliven. They choose not to.

I hate that I sometimes wish I had had enough money to invest so that I too could be benefitting off of this situation.



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