Pleasant Park is a very green and vivacious place, located near stately Heritage Hill homes. I drove past it one day with an older friend, in awe. She, a hardworking African American, relished the memory that years ago she owned a Heritage Hill home. But after prices in that area soared, she and many other African Americans were forced to move out.
Why is an area that used to be home to industrious blacks now populated with wealthy whites? Priority is given to those with a higher income because realtors and business owners will enjoy fatter wallets. Yes, gentrification is becoming a big issue in Grand Rapids.
Michigan is home to many wealthy people. In fact, Grand Rapids has the largest wealth gap of any city in Michigan, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute. West Michigan news media seldom touch this topic. Many people do not want to admit that Grand Rapids is a highly gentrified community. Consider this: the top one percent of wealthy people in Grand Rapids make more money than the top one percent of rich folks in Detroit!
When you walk to Martin Luther King Park on a sunny day, you can feel the breeze flowing through your hair. You pass by the Hall Street Bakery to reach the park. I was surprised to see such an expensive store in a low-income area. Across the street you see a rundown house. I entered the bakery one day out of curiosity. The prices are high. I stood there, the only minority in a sea of white customers. I felt out of place and quickly left.
If you Google gentrification, you read that it’s “the process of making a person or activity more refined or polite.” But what advantage does refining a whole AREA bring? How can the poor afford expensive restaurants that feature delicious, but unaffordable, food? Many homes are being torn down. Residents are being displaced. Memories are fading. The economic squeeze can be seen in the faces of the poor, the minorities.
Many Hispanics work extra factory shifts to get by. Many black workers help build fancy houses that their tired minds know they can’t afford.
The Urban Dictionary gives vivid definitions of words such as gentrification. When so-called “urban renewal” of poor neighborhoods promotes condos for upper-class owners, rents for the poor rise and the exodus of low-income residents increases.
The process often starts with an influx of local artists looking for cheap digs, giving the neighborhood a bohemian flair. This hip reputation attracts well-heeled tenants who want to live in a fun atmosphere. But the trend also drives out poorer artists and residents, thus changing the neighborhood’s character. You also see higher prices at businesses like sushi restaurants and fancy coffee shops–gradually pushing out stores that can’t afford the higher rents.
This is the crisis that is slowly unfolding in Grand Rapids and other cities. Only the rich benefit from this “renewal.” The scenes you see while driving across town show a gradual widening of the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Sadly, those who “have not” are being pushed aside.