To fully understand gentrification, one must come to grips with the questions of poverty and educational inequity in a society. The two work hand-hand to perpetuate the current capitalistic economic structure. If someone could find the correct formula for eradicating poverty, he or she would ironically become super wealthy. Perhaps a better question to ask is whether those who govern the social machine have any intentions of eradicating such a destructive force as poverty or are they going through the motions with an expressed intent of allowing an intrusive force referred to as gentrification to continue. Who has the real power to make these decisions? Keep in mind that poverty serves the function of creating jobs for technocrats and human service delivery systems. You cannot have wealth without poverty. Somehow those suffering from poverty must be blamed for their plight. I think the rich and the superrich would rather bask in their illusion of superiority than admit that the wealthy become rich on the backs of others.
In an attempt to hide the evils of poverty, Chicana/o barrios have been historically characterized by overcrowded housing, lack of local government investments into people of color poverty stricken communities, limited infrastructure rehabilitation, and control of zoning that is seemingly coupled with structural underdevelopment. Manmade and natural barriers such as railroad tracks, one-way streets and intrusive highways have always divided poor communities from wealthy ones, especially in large cities where poor neighborhoods are underserved. The flow of the dollar is always controlled outside of the barrio, even if it is miniscule at best. There are no banks in the barrio; if one is lucky, he or she can encounter a money machine inside of a grocery store. Employment in the barrio, many times overshadowed by environmental racism, consists of blue collar workers, augmented with high unemployment rates with welfare as a solution. Homes are rented for outrageous prices from the point of view of the poor as land owners send in slum lords once a month to pick up the rent. There is no incentive to upgrade properties as they become even more substandard. What results are ethnic enclaves or what we refer to as barrios or colonias.
What is lost according to Professor David Diaz in his book Barrio Urbanism, “is the reaffirmation of culture, a defense of space, an ethnically bound sanctuary, the spiritual zone of Chicanas/os, and Mexicana/o and Chicana/o identity.”
Encroachment is a key function during gentrification as cultural aesthetics change and icons with historical meaning are demolished. Those who have the buying power to remain continue to experience racism and cultural conflict. When this is combined with ecological and environmental factors, the process of acculturation becomes very intricate, causing anxiety and stress; generally without appropriate cultural resolution as persons of color become further acculturated as pressure to conform invades the community. Density becomes the norm where the tops of beautiful one-story homes are peeled off and replaced with bigger homes; therefore, more traffic that translates into congestion, more waste, and overcrowding.
Beneath the exterior in the case of many barrios are homes with the old-style structures that are strong and sound, built at a time when pride governed construction. However, it is a matter of time before gentrification arrives as developers and big money people in cahoots with government analyze land utilization policy and invite business ventures that come into a community with greedy pocket books. Developer relationships with city governments is a priority. Their influence is even stronger as they negotiate business deals with tax incentives and other material gains. When gentrification becomes fait accompli, industrial businesses that leave the stench of raunchy odor are automatically placed in areas where the dislocated have relocated. They often retreat back to suburbia or exclusive neighborhoods to luxuriate in their success.
When educational inequity is added into the calculus, poor people don’t have a chance. The theory of blaming the victim for their dismal failures in public schools has served as a rationalization why Chicanas/os remain in poverty, guided by old stereotypes about being intellectually inferior and lazy; therefore, resulting in student underachievement in América’s public school systems. The lack of education touted as the great equalizer eventually leads to either being pushed out of schools and/or working often times meaningless jobs that will never pay livable wages, never provide decent working conditions, or offer humane benefits. Buying and borrowing power are completely diminished with extremely low or no credit scores. When someone manages to work themselves out of the barrio, they come face-to-face with stringent economic borrowing policies that require high credit ratings. They become susceptible to the market forces of “high risks,” that demand higher interest rates in order to purchase homes whose values have been driven sky high. Dreams slowly dissipate under the rhetoric of disenfranchisement. The tentacles of the internal colonial model swallow up what is left of one’s pride.
Gentrification leads to displacement of families whose neighborhoods are destroyed, culturally and aesthetically. Diversity is usually exported out of the neighborhoods, the culture is dismantled and a new one imposed upon the residents causing symptoms of marginalization. Standards of beauty change and result in cultural businesses exiting the community because they cannot cater to extravaganza demanded by the intruders.
A process of segregation begins to occur as poor people of color families are displaced into other sectors of the city or the periphery of other counties. It is here where the continued development of colonias and barrios continue. To protect the wealthy’s interests, red lining from both the real estate industry and banks increase to ensure homogenous communities.
Investments into lower income family dwellings, the creation of mixed housing initiatives by governmental housing authorities, and other housing programs seldom create equal wealth or value for struggling families. Structural change won’t occur again for another quarter of a century or until the wealthy are tired of playing in the sand and begin to look for another sand pile. Is gentrification fait accompli in Denver? You draw your own conclusions. You have the power to get up and do something in your community that once stood up and shouted, ¡Ya Basta!
By Ramón Del Castillo, PhD
Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist. © 4-23-2018 Ramón Del Castillo.