gentrification: a love story
on the edge of my neighborhood, there used to be a store where people could rent furniture. this might not mean anything to you, like it used to not mean anything to me. but now i know people, people who cannot get credit cards, who work for pittance, who are unable to ever be fluent in the language of this country and our customs, people who would like a shiny lamp or a sturdy side table, people who to varying degrees would like their apartments to look good, and acceptable, people who are willing to pay $5 or $10 or $20 dollars a month to never own the illusion, but to sit on it and sink into it and enjoy it while they still can. in the end, of course, they pay more for their furniture than is morally acceptable, but what can they do? in an economy of sharing, where everyone you know is in need, where every friday you get calls from your family asking for more, you never have savings. so you rent, you rent it all, and there are plenty of people to take advantage of how this world simultaneously crushes you while igniting desires.
there used to be a store where people could rent furniture, and it was ugly and from the 1990s and ridiculously priced; there were bars in the window and a slot in the door for people to drop off envelopes of cash just to keep their couch for another month. the lamps especially, i noticed with interest, were exceedingly ugly. i grew up in a house where sometimes we had a little extra money and sometimes we didn't. we shopped second-hand and it wasn't a shameful thing because we were thrifty and resourceful and had things like education and community to bolster our spirits. my house currently holds a mis-mash of second-hand furniture, all of it ugly, most of it falling apart, none of it worth the price to rent a van to drive it across the country next month. we will give it away to anyone who wants it, both because nothing is worth much and also because we have received so much generosity in our lives that we just shake our heads in gratitude and a little bit of shame.
we never had to rent a lamp. that store went out of business and now it is going to be a grocery store. "Good Grocery" says the banner out front, and it is in a certain kind of font so I know that it is outsiders. In the window of the store I see two men at a conference table, presumably getting everything ready for the grand opening. they are white, young, bearded, with top knots. it is their hair that gets to me, makes me upset. surely i should be glad--the predatory lenders of furniture are gone, the purveyors of fresh food are here--but it all feels too similar. people moving in and taking over and making their living off of the backs of the neighborhood. who will be able to shop there, i wonder? who will be able to pay the higher rents that come with fancy grocery stores and cafes? who is building affordable housing for large families, who is open to hiring felons, who is able to leave space for the damaged and those unable or unwilling to fully integrate into the smooth narrative of upward mobility and success?
the men with the man-buns are a source of shame to me, a professional relocator myself. how often have i preyed upon my neighbors? gobbling up their stories of hardship and horror, so exotic to me. how often have i used my good works amongst them to position myself closer to God? how often have i used my location, my neighborhood, to cast judgement on all those who didn't live here, didn't help out, didn't care? i have used it all.
i don't know what will happen to this neighborhood, this place. there is a fancy grocery store moving in. there is a precious boy who was gunned down last night. there are kids being abused by their parents. there are scraps of homework and condoms littering the ground. there are fresh limes and mangos in every corner market. there are churches with banners declaring that God is here, in our sweet and messy little barrio.
when i move back to Portland, i will have my kids and my husband and my books and my art. i will be moving again into a neighborhood far from where i grew up. i will be surrounded by sights and smells and cultures that are thrilling in their unfamiliarity, i will once again be the recipient of much goodness and grace. i will go to thrift stores and buy whatever is available, because i can afford it. i will be different, from the very outset, from most of my neighbors. and there is no way to hide it, no way to explain it. i don't know what will happen to me, the perpetual relocator, the gentrifier. the girl who moves in, whose good intentions alone do not atone for all the sins. but i do know that God loves me, especially when i am able to be vulnerable, and honest, and tell him that i am tired of using people and places, of my predatory spirituality, of constantly looking down at the ground and at the storefronts for the signs of the times.
but i already know the signs. i see it everywhere i look. God was, and is, and will always live here. and God alone is the one who will never, ever leave us.