It’s not an especially new idea that mere statistics and facts don’t begin to tell the whole story about something; for example, a million pie charts and infographics about the poverty line and percentage of income going towards rent don’t come close to conveying the on-the-ground reality, the crushing hopelessness and drudgery, of what it’s like being poor.
Same with gentrification; we’ve all heard the conventional wisdom; the displaced families, the gouging of rents, the racial politics. These are all tragic facts, and yet they miss a lot of the granular reality of gentrification. Yes, it’s sad when someone is driven from their neighborhood by rising rents, but it’s also sad (albeit much less so) for the people who stay, marooned in an area where they’re increasingly out of place. We hear much less about these more subtle hardships though, probably because their complaints seem petty in comparison. And they are sort of petty. But they’re also valid and, more importantly, insightful. After all, if it’s gentrification you’re interested in, it’s the people who stayed behind who have the best perspective on the changes in their neighborhood.
I’ve lived in Shaw for eight or nine years, over the course of which the neighborhood transformed dramatically, to the point where it’s now one of the more expensive in the city. I know everyone in a handful-of-blocks radius who stayed, and these, then, are their grievances, their whinings, their complaints of varying degrees of pettiness, culled from dozens of sidewalk conversations over the course of months, presented anonymously.
“It was the cars that tipped me off. Everything was the same but you saw expensive cars parked on the street at night. But I never saw the people who owned them. Just the cars. That’s when I first knew it was happening.”
“They always put up fences. I mean, I don’t blame them, especially if the back of your house faces a blind alley like this, but these are serious, ten, twelve foot high fences. If you go along the back of all these houses along here, you can tell where the new people and the old people live by the height of the fences.”
“I’ve worked in a bar the whole time I’ve lived here, so I get up late, and I’m at work until 3am, and on the weekends I usually work doubles both days. So I don’t get out around the neighborhood very often. A few weekends ago the bar I work at was closed down because we sold to someone underage, so I had the weekend off. When I got up I went down the street for coffee and I couldn’t believe it. There were so many strollers, I had to walk in the street. These people don’t move for you. Also, having a baby is literally – literally – the easiest thing to do in the world, but they all look so smug. They look like they just solved global warming. Dude, all you did was not pull out. Fourteen year olds do it every day.”
“When they put their houses on the market, they always come over and ask me to make my yard pretty, to help sell their house faster. One woman had the nerve to ask me to paint my house. I was like, what’s my cut of the sale?”
“I heard country music playing in one of the backyards the other night. That’s a first.”
“Most of them are nice. Some of them are annoying. My new neighbors have parties every weekend. They set out folding tables in the backyard and play beer pong with red plastic Solo cups. I didn’t think people actually did that. I thought that was just in, like, Zac Efron movies. They also yell ‘whoo!’ a lot. They’re constantly yelling ‘whoo!’ It’s annoying.”
“I used to complain about the hipsters. But what comes after the hipsters is much much worse. I wish the hipsters would come back.”
“I’ve been feeding this feral cat colony for years, and I fed their cat parents and cat grandparents. I make sure they get all their shots, and they’ve all been fixed. This couple that just moved in asked me to stop doing it because they claimed the cat food was attracting ‘vermin.’ They have this little dog they like to walk off the leash and they’re afraid it’ll be attacked by rats or something. I explained to them that I’ve been feeding these cats their whole lives and that if I stopped, they’d starve to death. And the food isn’t out long enough to attract vermin. The cats eat it right away. But they weren’t hearing it. They started stealing the food bowls. Now I have to stand guard while the cats eat.”
“My new neighbor is like 23 and she’s engaged. Who gets married at 23? People who get divorced at 27, that’s who. She recently had an engagement party at her house. They rented a party bus. When the bus got there, the iPod jack was broken or something, and she sent it back. I heard her crying about it, literally crying, right outside my front window. She said that she didn’t want to listen to the radio during her engagement party party bus ride. All her friends were comforting her. But I’ve heard the music she listens to. It’s all top 40 radio hits!”
“It happens in phases. I was talking to a barista at my favorite coffee shop about six months ago and he told me that Shaw is where all the GW grads move now. I was like, uh oh, it’s about to get a lot worse. And it has.”