Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Living in the Midst of Ratchedness and Other Thoughts on Gentrification

Our local park
After the housing drama we had at our Manhattan apartment, we were in a hurry to get outta there and find a place in Jersey City that would not only be much closer to Mr. Love Bird's office, but also save us money AND give us substantially more space. Our last place had 1 1/2 bedrooms and our current apartment has 3 bedrooms. Although our last apartment was in a luxury building (Viking appliances package, Bosch washer/dryer, and deep soaking tub in the bathroom with a heated river stone floor), the amount of space we have in our new place more than makes up for that.

There were definitely some trade-offs, however and one of those was the neighborhood in which we live. We're in Jersey City, but more on the outskirts in an area called Greenville. It doesn't take much research to see that it's a high drug/crime area more so than Harlem which is becoming more and more gentrified. Where we live is sandwiched between two higher-income areas of Bayonne and downtown Jersey City. We're just off the light-rail not far from Liberty Science Center, and while it's so nice not having to climb subway stairs to get around (and risk spraining one's ankle), I definitely do miss the city although I can see downtown Manhattan just steps from my front door.

Our neighborhood has scared some of our visitors and honestly, I make sure to walk quickly especially when coming off the light rail at night, but not once have I felt threatened by anyone personally and our fellow neighbors have treated us with respect and kindness (despite that noise complaint issue we had from our downstairs neighbors a few months ago who, as fellow parents, must've forgotten what it's like having a toddler).

As we travel throughout Jersey City we're floored at the dichotomy of goods and services available just a couple, short train stops from where we are and even simple differences such as clean sidewalks and substantially less noise pollution.

I was reading this article on Clutch about gentrification, and I have to admit I'm torn especially having witnessed it in Harlem. Our current neighborhood reminds me of Harlem in the 90s - making progress but still a lot of work left to go and by "progress" I don't mean white people moving in, but improvement like new parks and beautification projects. Services definitely have a very long way to go. There is no bank, post office or quality grocery store within walking distance, and I greatly miss the walk-ability that we had in our Harlem neighborhood (click here to see some of the latest developments).

Mr. Love Bird and I debate living in this area - he having grown up in a gritty neighborhood like this and I having grown up in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. I understand that he may be used to growing up in an area like this and many people have survived and thrived in such places, but that doesn't mean it's an ideal location nor that I want to stay here and raise my family (especially after reading this story today which brought tears to my eyes).

I believe gentrification can be a good thing (what I wouldn't give for a bank branch around here!), but it has to be handled carefully and thoughtfully.

As I look ahead to the future, I tell myself that where we're at is (very, very) temporary and that it serves a purpose for our family at this time. I'm thankful we have a wonderful landlord, kind neighbors and a great space to spread out affordably.

{Also, check out NPR's piece about the growing trend of bringing farmer's markets to underprivileged areas} 

Do you live in an area that's undergoing or has gone through gentrification? What are your thoughts on the issue?