It’s a hard phenomenon to measure, yet most agree the signals include the rapid influx of young, well-to-do white people into once low-income neighborhoods, often in the inner city, usually populated by people of color. The area is flooded with resources, property value rises and many former residents are forced to move out.
The change is ruthless and unapologetic. Neighborhoods, are not just homes, but opportunities for profit and redevelopment. And the renewal fantasy that defines them hides an often racist history of deliberate and concentrated impoverishment, one that's inevitably copied wherever poor residents are forced to move next, usually to the suburbs they were barred from occupying in the first place. It's a pattern as old as America itself.
The word "Gentrification" twenty-five years ago, was largely unfamiliar to the average American. Today, you can't talk about cities, race or rent without bringing it up. Across America cities have been radically altered, cities like: Boston, Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta to name a few.
In Detroit, over the past several years, the city has transformed into what can feel like a completely new city, with sleek retail stores and coffee shops manifesting on formerly vacant downtown lots and thousands of recently arrived young employees working in new redeveloped offices. But the Motor City's celebrated renaissance, driven by an explosion of corporate investment, has so far largely missed the city's vast and overwhelmingly black population.
For longtime Detroiters who have struggled for decades only to witness a resurgence that's concentrated in an area where they don't live and brought thousands of newcomers, the downtown development can feel like a stick in the eye.
"You cannot talk about a thriving economic recovery in a city when the vast majority of the people in that city are not benefitting," said Marc Bayard, director of the institute's Black Worker Initiative. “Detroit”, Bayard added, “may be exceptional in some ways with a higher percentage of residents of color, the recent bankruptcy, the blistering pace of downtown growth but the struggles residents are facing in Detroit are essentially the same as those facing residents of color of other gentrifying cities all over the country.”
So, why can’t gentrification be a code word for diversity and inclusion, why can’t growth and economic redevelopment benefit everyone and why must new residents to a city displace longtime residents? The documentary When They Comeback: the Search for Answers is the story of people, displacement and a sense of unfairness. It’s also, the story of individuals across the country working to change the redevelopment and displacement narrative to one of hope and inclusion. The documentary explores the history of gentrification and its causalities while searching for those who are developing answers that can be used to develop and sustain a more inclusive approach.
The documentary, When They Comeback: the Search for Answers is a Detroit story that reverberates across America.