My friend, Youngstown celebrity Phil Kidd, told me a hahafunny recently. After consistently being ranked as one of the poorest cities in the country, Youngstown has recently seen a small reversal of fortunes in its downtown. A handful of new bars, some housing development, and voila–old-school Youngstowners are now complaining about “gentrification.”
This is the definition of gentrification, according to the Free Dictionary (an authoritative source is there ever was one!!):
n.The restoration and upgrading of deteriorated urban property by middle-class or affluent people, often resulting in displacement of lower-income people.
So while some middle-income people have moved into Youngstown, reversing a decades long trend, Youngstown is not really “gentrifying,” at least not in the sense that anyone is negatively impacted by it. And you know why? This is an extremely important point: NO ONE IS BEING DISPLACED.
When I lived in Youngstown, a good five years ago now, there were a few low-income housing facilities downtown and guess who else? One freaking guy! No kidding. There was literally one other guy who lived downtown–he owned the suit store that he lived above. Then, my awesome friend Paul renovated a loft and then there were two people that lived in downtown outside of the two housing projects. Paul used to joke that they were going to try to get their own newspaper route for the Vindicator.
For Christ’s sake, Youngstown lost almost 20 percent of its population during the last 10 years alone. It would take 15,000 young, affluent people moving into Youngstown just to make up for that loss–and that is many, many times the number of young people moving to downtown Youngstown.
The idea that young people moving into downtown Youngstown is in any way negative to poor people is, to me, just outright laughable. It’s the opposite of true. At last count, Youngstown had a nation-leading poverty rate of 49.7 percent–nearly a majority. So almost half the city made less than what the federal government considers adequate to cover the most basic expenses of food, shelter and clothing. Wealthier people moving into the city will only give the city a slightly more normal distribution of incomes, something that the school system, the city government, and anyone else who has any stake whatsoever in the city should welcome. Because Youngstown at large is a strong testament to the fact that cities don’t work real well when they are inhabited by poor people only.
Maybe you have class hangups yourself and you don’t like the kind of people who are moving to Youngstown. And fine, you are welcome to that opinion. But if there’s anyone who is deserving of moral reproach, it’s the suburbanites that abandoned the city, never go there, and have done nothing to stem its notorious decline. And even them, I can’t bring myself, in most cases, to reproach.