Community Development & Gentrification: A Tale of Two Cities

For decades city planners, economists, and social justice advocates have wrestled with the challenge of improving blighted or low-income neighborhoods without making them unaffordable to current residents. Now it is the City Different’s turn. A refreshing break from the world of war — let’s improve our city without displacing our neighbors. Here’s where we can make a difference.

A Public Bank in Santa Fe Could Be a Lynchpin for Economic Justice. A Public Bank in Santa Fe would save the city millions of dollars by eliminating fees currently paid to mega banks for holding our revenues and by reducing interest costs on bond measures funding infrastructure improvements. Together, these savings could be invested in a wide range of initiatives that can address many of the issues that will be the focus of our next several posts: economic justice in Santa Fe. The first hurdle in creating a Public Bank in Santa Fe will be the City Council’s Finance Committee Hearing, Monday, April 17, 5pm at City Hall. Nothing tells a Council member how to vote like seeing the people who attended house parties to get them elected sitting in the audience showing support for public banking. Click here for information and to RSVP.  This is so important to the future of Santa Fe, and by being a national leader on this, we can point the way for other cities to free themselves from mega bank shackles. If you have protested Wells Fargo for its investment in DAPL, this is your chance to free Santa Fe from using Wells Fargo as its fiscal agent. Advocating for a Public Bank is a much more effective action against Wells Fargo than carrying a sign opposing DAPL outside a Wells Fargo branch. Roxanne and I will be there. Hope to see you, too.

Development Without Displacement: A Battle for Economic Justice

After yesterday’s blog post, I spent several hours obsessed, every five minutes refreshing my Google search for “latest news North Korea.” My anxiety increased continuously, in lock step with my sense of impotence. I was infuriated that this maniac President could be jeopardizing the entire planet, but knew that my only recourse was to scream at the wall without effect.

Then I remembered that I needed to plan for a meeting with Tomás Rivera from Chainbreaker Collective. I had to pull myself away from Google and begin reading about gentrification and community development without displacement. The anxiety began to melt; I temporarily forgot about North Korea, and dug into something over which we can have influence, an issue where our community can work together. Trump be damned. The process of shifting from hopelessness and anger in thinking about North Korea to eagerness and a sense of power in thinking about community development in Santa Fe reminded me of why Roxanne and I formed Retake and why we framed its work around local and state issues: the desire to build community power and the desire to use that power to effect change where change is possible. That is why we don’t really want to devote energy to national petitions and calls to Senators and Congressional reps: because from our view, those efforts do not build power or effect much change.

And so, going forward, this blog will focus more on local and state issues. Unless you are living under a rock, you are not going to escape knowing about Trump’s latest impulse. You don’t need to hear it from us. If a major anti-war march is announced, of course we will post it, but our focus is going to be on state and local for the time being, where what we do matters. And there is no better place to start than to examine neighborhood and community development, gentrification, affordable housing, effective public transit, and the issues that are so immediate and so important to our west and south side neighbors.

As described below, in effect, Santa Fe is two cities: one that is far older, better educated, more affluent, Anglo, and often somewhat new to New Mexico. The residents of the ‘other Santa Fe’  most often have much deeper roots in the community, are younger, browner, and exercise far less power in the decisions that impact all of us. And while they want to stay here, far too often they can’t afford to. A big reason why they can’t afford to stay here is because so many people — people like Roxanne and I and perhaps you — are drawn to Santa Fe by its magic. The newcomers, whether artists or retirees or entrepreneurs, can afford to buy a home or pay higher rents. New businesses develop to meet the shopping needs of these newcomers. The process drives up the prices for everyone, prices that many of those who have lived here for generations can’t afford to pay. And thus the City Different draws people of some affluence who then displace those people who have lived here forever. That is gentrification in a nutshell.

But, and here is a big but, a majority of those new and more affluent folks who come to Santa Fe are semi-retired, progressive, and bring important experience, skills, and expertise. So let’s galvanize those skills and resources and create a different path, a path that allows the new and the old to cohere in the City Different, a community that does more than care about social justice, it creates it.

The challenge is great. The issue of gentrification is not an easy one. Urban planners, economists and social justice advocates have wrestled with it for decades, and there are precious few models out there that can shed light on how to develop communities without displacing the current residents. But Retake wants to meet this challenge head on and invites all of you play a part.

So yesterday, I met with Tomás Rivera, Director of Chainbreaker Collective, a Santa Fe membership driven organization that has been advocating for economic and social justice for 13 years. Joining me was Tom Leatherwood, a member of the developing Retake leadership team, who has been involved in social and economic justice work for decades. We had a 90-minute conversation that will inform an ongoing series of posts and KSFR shows about how the City Different can discover the Path Different, a path that improves our west and south side neighborhoods while ensuring that the residents who have been there for generations are the primary beneficiaries of that improvement.

By way of a primer, the video at the end of this post provides an excellent summary of the issues involved with gentrification and revitalization. I also want to introduce you to a Kellogg Foundation-funded, comprehensive study of four Santa Fe neighborhoods:  Downtown, Canyon Road, Airport District, and Hopewell-Mann: Equitable Development and Risk of Displacement: Profiles of Four Santa Fe Neighborhoods. Hopewell-Mann may not be a neighborhood with which you are familiar by name, but it is the poorest, most densely populated, and most Hispanic neighborhood in Santa Fe, with boundaries defined by the three major arteries of the city: Cerrillos Rd., St. Francis, and St. Michaels. Its proximity to the downtown and the major arteries of the city, its relatively affordable opportunities for home ownership, and the historic Southwest architecture of its homes, replete with adobe walls and kiva fireplaces all put it at exceedingly high risk of gentrification and displacement. It is a place newcomers might well like to live.

While I was aware of the economic divisions in the city, the Kellogg study data shocked me. Here we go with data excerpted from the Kellogg study: A Tale of Two Cities.

The table at left, in very broad strokes, illustrates two starkly different realities in Santa Fe. Over the next few issues, Retake will delve more deeply into this study, as it is critical to understanding gentrification as it applies in our community. If you want to read the full Kellogg report, click here. It also examines the city’s historic investment patterns in the four neighborhoods, and goes in to more depth in analyzing why the Hopewell Mann neighborhood is so vulnerable to gentrification.

In our conversation with Tomás, he described an 18-month, grassroots process led by Chainbreaker that involved weekly canvassing of neighborhoods and buses to obtain a better understanding of the needs and aspirations of parts of Santa Fe rarely consulted in development planning. The process resulted in the creation of a People’s Bill of Rights, a series of policy recommendations that could revitalize the south side and Hopewell Mann without the displacement of its residents. The document recommends increasing funding for public transit, affordable housing, bike trail improvements, and other policy initiatives. Click here to review the brief report. These are good policy recommendations and they address immediate and pressing needs of low-income communities of color, but to address the threat of gentrification more systemically requires more systemic solutions and this will be the topic of tomorrow’s post.

In closing, considering these local challenges and researching potential solutions is far better for one’s mental health than clicking refresh to find out what Trump is up to next. In tomorrow’s post, we will present a proven solution to the conundrum of development without displacement: Community Land Trusts. This will be an ongoing research and planning effort, but one that offers all of us an opportunity for meaningful civic involvement and a way to make our city a more just and affordable community for all. The Research Action Team, meeting this Thursday, will play a big role in doing research on revitalization approaches that are appropriate to Santa Fe, as well as other strategies that support and empower our low-income communities. Click here for details on the Research Action Team’s meeting this Thursday evening.

Again, the video below is a short but very clear articulation of the dynamics of gentrification.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

Categories: Economic justice, Neighborhood development

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3 replies

  1. I like the community development focus and need to bridge social class and cultural gaps and we are so so long overdo on this – the political “left” in the US, particularly beginning in the 1970’s has largely been an entity of and for an urban liberal, largely, but not entirely Caucasian – both male and female phenomenon . The needs and orientations of rural and working class and those in poverty, or entering into it were largely ignored – the latter, reduced to handouts and often middle class folks providing increasingly poor services with an air of superiority for “those people” – never really understanding or experiencing the reality of their lives – I have seen this pattern over and over and over again here in Taos and in the many other places that I have lived as well. – socio economic issues and analysis is never applied, understood or appreciated – I could go on.

    However, the idea of this type of community development can be a part of changing this and building a new and truly together and integrated community in all areas, housing, health education and so on – and at the same time an appreciation of independent cultures and the sharing of such – festive and together …. this would be a good thing.

    Just some thoughts on this

  2. I support this endeavor but think it should include how to bring the different neighborhoods together in community as well. For example, how can improved public transportation and bike trails connect neighborhoods to the benefit of all of Santa Fe and build community across the neighborhoods in the process? I look forward to reading the report to see if any of the research addresses this issue.

    • Hi Nancy, If you take a look at the longer report referenced in the post on Sunday, it describes the importance of public transit and bike trails to connecting communities, but more from the perspective of connecting those without other options to transit to the cultural and economic pulse of the city. I see you are signed up for doing Research and this could be an area you might want to research.

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