As Brooklyn social worker and performer Imani Henry points out, and as most of us are seeing first hand, “rents are increasing while incomes are decreasing.” In a recent article in The Guardian, Chris Toenes, a social worker who supports Henry's program, relates an anecdote about an older man who is astonished to find out that the old African American neighborhood of Braggtown, North Carolina, has now been rechristened as “Colonial Heights”, by developers hoping to attract a more well-to-do class of residents.
The neighborhood’s new name, of course, betrays an ominous significance. Gentrification is completely out of hand, not only in New York and San Francisco, but in cities large and small all across the country. Is it a vast social engineering project, or merely a confluence of many and disparate forces such as real estate speculation, privatization of resources, the weakening of unions, globalization, political corruption, etc. etc.?
It’s hard to say. But the important thing is to fight back on a local level in whatever small way we can. To this end, Henry has developed a web-based art project called “Before it’s Gone—Take it Back”, to have residents document neighborhood life in Brooklyn—“weddings, backyard barbecues, quinceaneras, bar/bat mitzvahs,” etc.—and to tie it to the history of their neighborhoods. It’s important to connect what’s happening today to the history of a place, because history is one of the main things that these developers want to expunge—or rather, to sanitize in order to present their own more palatable, squeaky-clean vanilla version of the past. Such an whitewash makes it that much easier to ignore the cries of the working and middle class people that gentrification displaces.
Help Imani Henry thwart the developers Orwellian intentions. To learn more about his project, to perhaps kick in a few dollars, send a selfie, or even to be inspired to start your own local project, go to "Before it's Gone - Take it Back". -- Ed Hamilton
(Photo: New York Post - )