Friday, December 8, 2017

Whatever happened to “Gentrification!” in the City of Lake Worth?

Below is more on the “Politics of Fear” plus something called, “The Gentrification Paradox”.

What follows is a fairly long read with a brief introduction to that “loaded word”: Gentrification. Later on in this blog post is about a “paradox” (self-contradictory, false proposition) and how the public can be manipulated by a looming threat or fear that doesn’t exist, e.g., “The Wolf at the Door”.

The word gentrification, once a favorite loaded word to create fear and instability in neighborhoods throughout the City of Lake Worth in years past has disappeared from the lexicon. Why? We’ll examine that a little later. But first:

A loaded word is one, 

[T]hat attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes. Such wording is also known as high-inference language or language persuasive techniques.

Do you know what gentrification is? No one does.

There is no accepted definition. Another interesting thing is how this word can show up in the strangest of places, even when there are much better words to choose from, like in this article about The Cottages of Lake Worth.

Emily Badger at The Washington Post wrote an article titled: “It’s time to give up the most loaded, least understood word in urban policy: gentrification”:

These questions get at a fundamental problem with one of the most controversial (and fuzzy) concepts in urban policy: Even researchers don’t agree on what ‘gentrification’ means, let alone how to identify it. (And this is to say nothing of its even more problematic derivative, the “gentrifier.”)

Think about this, since urban gardens are so popular with some, are they actually promoting gentrification? Because developers love urban gardens. Have you read this article, “Urban farmers find that success leads to eviction”? This is called “The Gentrification Paradox” (read more about that below).

One last question, a very troubling one: Is it possible there were people or groups here in Lake Worth intentionally using tactics like “Gentrification!” to suppress neighborhood improvements, increase the crime rate, and create fear for political objectives? A shocking thought isn’t it? Or maybe not so much for others.

Everyone knows the naysayers and malcontents here in Lake Worth. The ones that have nothing good to say about the City Commission first swept into office in 2012. Finally this year the last of the holdouts (see image below), lost his District 2 seat held since 2010. Some of those naysayers, once upon a time, were in control of this City and you may be wondering how such negative people ever got into positions of power. They accomplished that with the politics of fear, also called “The Wolf at the Door”.

Photo taken of prior administration in 2012 at the Lake Worth Casino:

“Gentrification!” was a word Cara Jennings (on right, facing) was fond of using. Chris McVoy, PhD (beaming, blue shirt) managed to hold on for a
while but lost his re-election bid last March.
Recognize anyone else?

The public in Lake Worth woke up one day 5½ years ago and realized there was no “Wolf at the Door”, or “Vulture at the Door” if you will. The real problem was a few commissioners in City Hall. Unsurprisingly, the mood in this City began to change beginning back in 2012 and despite some setbacks and disappointments, the outlook going forward is mostly positive about our City’s future. The passing of the Neighborhood Road Bond last year by a “whopping 69%” was proof a new positive attitude had swept over the City.

So. . . why did the cry of “Gentrification!”
stop working?

Also in this blog post are more of the tactics used to stop neighborhood improvements and ways to discourage people from being more involved in their communities. And. . . why blaming elected officials for ‘gentrification’ is a fallacy, merely a tactic to gain political advantage.

Gentrification is one of the most misunderstood phenomenons in American culture. It’s a term that’s derogatory to some and a very hopeful one for others who live in persistently blighted areas. The logic by some is a certain level of blight is ‘charming’ because it makes the area undesirable to investors or ‘outsiders’.

People who rail and frighten a neighborhood against gentrification (G) are then in the unenviable position of having to balance how much blight is good to deter more people from moving in but still keep the area in a state of limbo: not getting better and not getting worse either. Because if the neighborhood gets too blighted the people who live there will move out.

On the other hand, if one person decides to do a home renovation and improve his or her home, another home will have to decay further to maintain that balance. And what if, God forbid, a homeowner decides to replace the roof!

If one property increases in value, the anti-G logic is, then that is a threat to all the other homes on the street. Then to show the neighborhood how enlightened, resilient, and sustainable they are, then they encourage urban farms and urban gardens which leads to what? Less blight. A bland, unkempt home doesn’t look as bad when surrounded by a garden or a farm. Welcome to what’s called the Gentrification Paradox.

Here is one explanation of this phenomenon from the Strong Towns blog. To put it very simply: Some tactics to stop ‘gentrification’ actually do the opposite. They make neighborhoods, towns and cities more attractive rather than less.

However, the ‘anti-G’ folks have other tactics from the grab-bag to try and stop, or at least slow down, the process of a neighborhood improving that do terrible long-term damage and truly affect people’s lives in a negative way:
  • Upzoning (destabilize residential neighborhoods).
  • Increase the crime rate (or the perception of crime in an area).
  • Encourage the homeless to take over a “space”, like the Cultural Plaza downtown.
  • Promote needle exchange programs to attract more drug addicts (another tactic in Lake Worth from the bag of tricks).
  • Try to make it easier for sober homes to operate without supervision and less scrutiny.
  • Under-fund or obstruct education initiatives for children and recent immigrants.
All of these tactics, and there are many others, are ultimately unsuccessful. Why? Because the process is market-driven and as the economy improves people want a better quality of life. Those who who live in blighted areas will do things like paint a house, clean up the front yard, remove abandoned cars, and engage in activities like forming neighborhood groups, request bike lanes, and become interested in things like community policing. All these changes increase real estate value over time.

In the City of Lake Worth is the Grey Mockingbird Community Garden (GMCG). This garden located at the Scottish Masonic Temple has greatly increased visitors and interest in the area not only due to the garden but also with their educational and entertainment activities. The GMCG is discouraging blight and encouraging neighborhood improvements. How many people have visited the garden and decided to look around the City, liked what they saw and either decided to invest in or move to Lake Worth? That is hard to gauge but it certainly has happened.

In the 2015 election cycle the word “gentrification” was used almost constantly by the ‘anti-G’ faction who knocked on doors to frighten certain neighborhoods in Lake Worth. They blamed some politicians for promoting it and others were praised for trying to stop it which is all nonsense, but it did play well ‘at the door’ to some degree but was much less effective than in previous elections.

However, the tactic was completely ineffective in the 2016 elections and not used at all in the 2017 elections. Why?

The answer is easy: They simply overplayed their hand and ‘crying Wolf!’ had lost its effectiveness.

In conclusion, if someone tells you that your commissioner, mayor, or state representative is responsible for ‘gentrification’ they are lying to you.

And on the issue of trust:

Why would you ever trust anyone who told you that your neighborhood can’t aspire to be better for your children, friends, and family?

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