DAY Zine #1: Hot Chicken, Hot Yoga, and Hot-Button Socio-Political Themes

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Gentrification is a hot topic these days. Every time a new business opens, the conversation starts anew. Since 2017 began, Ypsi Facebook has blown up with massive threads sounding the alarm about “gentrifried chicken” (as was the case when Ma Lou’s Chicken was set to open) and fears of a “dystopic Ann Arbor future” of hot yoga and hundred-dollar juice cleanses (Tiny Buddha and babo).

Social media agitation gets the goods, if by “goods” we mean increased conversation and media attention to the ever-pressing matter of gentrification. It only took a handful of high-traffic posts on Facebook and Instagram to get the attention of prominent area newsmedia. Early in May, the Detroit News ran an article with a sub-headline that read “Ann Arbor spillover stirs fears of gentrification.” Before that, the Detroit Metro Times, MLive.com, and MarkMaynard.com ran stories. A reporter for Concentrate posted in the Ypsilanti Area Discussion Facebook group just recently that he was “working on a story about the changing commercial and residential markets in Ypsilanti” and was “looking for people or businesses who have been priced out of the City of Ypsilanti, or who are feeling the pinch of increased rents.” Hot chicken, hot yoga, and hot-button socio-political themes.

The most heated conversations tend to happen when an Ann Arbor-based entrepreneur opens up a new business. The patterns of gentrification are well known and we can see them in play when grad students and entrepreneurs move from Ann Arbor to Ypsi for cheaper rent, all the while pricing out folks who’ve already been here. Yet while fears of Ann Arbor spillover are key to understanding these discussions, it is fully possible for an Ypsi resident or native to be complicit in gentrification. Because gentrification is a matter of wealth and whiteness, an entrepreneur living in Normal Park or Depot Town is just as complicit as a business owner who is branching off from Ann Arbor to Depot Town. If you have capital and establish a business that draws in white, class-privileged people, you are complicit.

Yet to be complicit doesn’t mean that one is a bad person or of ill intention. Being complicit means that one is swept up in a larger system that is fundamentally inequitable. Being complicit means that one is acting in accordance with the desires, prerogatives, and consumption habits of those who stand the most to benefit from increased development and rising property values.

For example, Cultivate Coffee & Tap House has a charitable mission, but with fancy toast, craft beer, and $6 pourovers, the combination of high price point, artisanal focus, and cultural programming is going to draw a certain (largely white, gentrifying) clientele of creatives, professionals, and suburbanites. No amount of charitable giving can erase the cost of making Ypsi attractive to people who are able to pay rents that are no longer affordable to the very people whom charitable organizations purport to benefit. Yes, it’s good to talk about concerns of Ann Arbor spillover. But even in the case of local businesses (those businesses whose proprietors are Ypsi residents in good standing with the community), you can sure bet there’s been talk (even if only in whispers) about these businesses being gentrifying. This is not to say that Cultivate doesn’t offer programs of social benefit or give money to organizations doing good work. It does these things while being swept up in larger processes of gentrification. The moral complexity of questions of complicity in gentrification means that even good and well-intentioned people act within and according to the logic of stratifying social systems.

Concerns about gentrification aren’t new. Before the winter and spring of this year, there was the summer and fall of 2015. It was then that the Convention and Visitors Bureau unveiled its #YpsiReal campaign and threw up banners around town and released a promotional video that many regarded as a “commercial for gentrification” (to quote one Facebook commenter). While many at the time were angered about the county merging CVBs, there was little talk at the time of how the CVB as an institution is implicated in the very municipal growth machine that drives gentrification and displacement.

In addition to the CVB merger and the #YpsiReal campaign, summer/fall 2015 was when a globe-trotting entrepreneur with a big imagination opened Lampshade Coffee and a group of professionals with a soft spot for nonprofits opened Cultivate (which itself grew out of a church ministry). While Lampshade no longer exists, Cultivate/#YpsiReal/Lampshade collectively felt like a flashpoint in the ongoing saga of gentrification in Ypsi, much in the same way the trifecta of Cross Street Coffee, Ma Lou’s Fried Chicken, and babo/Tiny Buddha has been this year. A handful of people sounded the alarm back in 2015, though cries of gentrification have since grown louder and in number. This is why the question, “why all the cries about gentrification now and not before?” is silly: people have been sounding the alarm for a while and if one is just hearing this stuff now, it’s because the situation is intensifying, not because people have been silent.

When these conversations pop up, many question whether the targeting of small businesses like babo or Ma Lou’s is the most “productive” route in combatting the inequities produced by gentrification. Critics of gentrification get accused of vilifying business owners and being unwelcoming of outsiders, of being resistant to “change,” or of practicing selective outrage. Many argue that it’s misguided to focus on small businesses as the central agents of gentrification when really it’s a deeper question of public policy, development, municipal debt, affordable housing, and differential access to capital. Some will even point out that babo’s presence in itself does little to accelerate gentrification and that stopping babo will do little to stop the wheels of gentrification from turning.

It’s definitely true that that these questions are deep and complex and that we miss a lot by focusing solely on businesses we deem gentrifying. These problems are structural and the actions of folks with capital and disposable income are rooted in a system that is fundamentally inequitable.

Yet to suggest that the focus on new businesses is misguided is to dismiss the experience, knowledge, and politics of the people who have the most to lose. Yes, the rise of businesses catering to more bougie types is but a symptom of a larger problem, but as it is with any illness, the symptoms are precisely what alert us to a deeper problem in the first place. It’s not so much that new businesses and amenities are undesirable in and of themselves. It’s not like having more arts, music, culture, and food options is in and of itself a bad thing. It’s that these things usually signal (and even aid in bringing about) certain negative changes down the road. It’s that these new businesses and amenities are likely to draw in folks who could displace us. It’s that all these newer businesses (babo, Ma Lou’s, Cultivate, Go! Ice Cream, etc.) and amenities (like foot bridges, place-marking signs, and grass-mowing sheep) are things that we who are vulnerable to displacement might not be around all that much longer enough to enjoy. It’s that these newer businesses and amenities might come off as being only for privileged newcomers and not particularly welcoming or accessible to those of us who’ve been struggling to get by.

Those of us who are vulnerable to displacement understand that these visible markers of what’s euphemistically referred to as “change” are symptoms of forces and processes that are much bigger than the actions of individuals or groups of individuals. Yet we also know that when we see new businesses open, we see the advancement of forces that threaten our already precarious housing stability. When symptoms manifest themselves, we take note and we spread the word in hopes that gentrification becomes a bigger part of the public conversation. To talk about symptoms doesn’t mean that we’re not also talking about the disease. We’re talking about the symptoms because these are precisely what’s unbearable and conspicuous about the disease.

It is no coincidence then that the very same folks who insist that we not focus on new businesses as the problem are often the very same people who regard all this talk about gentrification as something new, and if not new, misguided, irrational, and mean spirited: these folks probably haven’t been feeling the symptoms in a way that signals any kind of threat to their own personal security or well-being. While they acknowledge that there’s a problem (usually after someone publishes a study or report on the matter), they feel on some level personally attacked by the ire directed at business owners because they identify more with economically privileged white entrepreneurs and consumers than they do with low-income folks whose housing is precarious. They would rather channel the conversation into the questions that most concern them and that are within their personal realm of competence (how to grow the tax base, how support entrepreneurship, how pay off the city’s debt, or other “positive solutions”). They understand that the municipal growth machine produces inequitable outcomes. But because they are professionally and affectively invested in the municipal growth machine, they would rather hope that things turn out alright for low-income folks than to center the lives and voices of the precarious in actively reshaping municipal governments to function more equitably.

It seems that the number one priority for many (including many liberal allies who claim to have the interests of their low-income “neighbors” at heart) is for Ypsi to pay off the Water Street debt. Yet it is likely that this will come at the expense of folks priced out by rising rents. For many “allies,” this displacement seems to be little more than an unfortunate side effect of progress, to be mitigated, perhaps, but not questioned in any way that examines the complicity of folks with capital and privilege in maintaining and acting in accordance with the dictates of the municipal growth machine. While many hope that “solutions” can be found to the problems low-income folks face in finding affordable housing, low-income folks quickly become a population to be sacrificed in the name of paying off the debt. And the way things are looking now, it seems like municipal debt is little more than a means of holding municipalities hostage so that they can’t help but cater to developers.

Simply put, it’s easy to be for “change” when you have something to gain from that change. It’s a little less easy when that change looks like it’s going to upend one’s already precarious life and community.

The desire to direct the conversation away from individual agents to matters of economics or policy is often driven by a desire to avoid difficult conversations about the ways in which oneself is implicated in gentrification. It’s understandable that people would want to avoid conversations that are uncomfortable. But justice isn’t served by ignoring the ways in which variously positioned people act in ways that feed a fundamentally unjust system. Too often people want to redirect the conversation to absolve themselves, to blame the people “over there” as the folks who are “really the bad ones,” or even worse, to make themselves look like heros (heros who promote job creation, are in favor of growing the tax base and spreading out the tax burden, who support affordable housing initiatives, and who add some kind of “value” to the community through their professional and commercial endeavors).

To understand the ways in which variously positioned folks are implicated in gentrification, it is important to understand how gentrification unfolds as a process. There are many frameworks for understanding gentrification, but it’s common to understand gentrification as something that happens in phases, with succeeding waves of newcomers and capital investment giving way to further waves. For example, in one high-traffic Ypsi Facebook thread, someone copied the following text from the Utne Reader website:

Artists generally lead the charge, always on the search for space that can be rented cheap. But they want atmosphere too—old buildings, places to walk, maybe a waterfront, and it can’t be too far from downtown. Then come the coffee shops, which draw writers and musicians, and the galleries. Gays come next, then young lefties, attracted to the creative energy but also seeking a connection to the folks who’ve lived there all along: African Americans, Latinos, hoboes, Eastern Europeans. An old tavern in the area begins booking alternative rock bands and offering microbrews on tap.[1]

With the exception of a certain details, this is pretty much true of Ypsi over the past decade (artists, riverfront parks, coffee shops, writers, musicians, and queers) and is a dynamic that is bound to expand and intensify as folks move into less white, less well-off sections of town.

Ypsi Real promotional materials capitalize on an image of Ypsi that’s in sync with these early phases of gentrification, craft beer and all:

Here you’ll meet the talented, the fascinating, the proud. Artists with the room to create. Entrepreneurs with the freedom to risk. Students with the arena to question. History buffs with the opportunity to explore.[2]

Of course as properties get bought and rented out and as property values and rents rise, room to create and freedom to risk will become increasingly rare. And history itself will have become forgotten and erased, both in minds and in the local landscape.

It is clear that Ypsi is at a turning point, with new spots in Depot Town, co-working spaces downtown, and the attention of international investors looking to develop Water Street. The Utne piece continues, pointing us to what happens when the process of gentrification continues:

At this point, many of the old-time residents are gone due to rising rents. Graphic design firms and architects set up shop, and word goes out that the area’s not so hip anymore. But more people keep coming. Starbucks opens. Ten-dollar cigars are on sale at the corner grocery. It’s very crowded on Friday and Saturday nights. Lawyers and investment bankers buy condos. The Gap opens. Restaurants offer valet parking. The city council talks about building a sports stadium nearby. Planet Hollywood opens. By now all of the artists have relocated to a nearby industrial zone or working-class neighborhood, where a new gallery/coffee shop/performance space just opened up in an old gas station. And the game starts all over again. . . .

While this description is not 100% applicable to Ypsi, particularly given Ypsi’s size (it’s hard to imagine valet parking, investment bankers, or a sports stadium or Planet Hollywood popping up in or near downtown Ypsi, though we’ve managed to imagine a multimillion-dollar “international village”), you have here the broad contours of the gentrifying process. Gentrification has a tendency to snowball and replicate itself as the reach of capital expands.

This is also reminiscent of the four stages of gentrification outlined in the 70s by MIT urban studies professor Phillip Clay. Peter Moskowitz outlines Clay’s first stage as follows in How to Kill a City:

[T]he first phase begins when individuals, unsupported by any government or larger institution, decide to begin moving into a previously poor neighborhood and renovating houses. National media [or in case of Ypsi, regional media] pay little attention, and any increase in the concentration of gentrifiers comes largely from word of mouth.

Many of us renters who came to Ypsi during early phases are now vulnerable to displacement. And many of us who moved to Ypsi during early phases are low income. Perhaps we have friends who are renovating houses east of Depot Town or just south of downtown. Perhaps we rent from a landlord who scooped up some foreclosed properties earlier this decade when rents were cheaper. But in paving the way for further gentrification (perhaps we are artists, musicians, or baristas upping the hip factor), we are like more privileged, higher income, more advanced-stage gentrifiers insofar as we are all swept up in processes bigger than ourselves, processes whose advancement we aid through our actions. Perhaps we’ve rubbed elbows with house flippers. Perhaps we moved here from predominantly white rural and suburban communities and then encouraged our friends back home to move here. Maybe we’re queers looking for community. Maybe we’re artists looking for a space to showcase our work or musicians looking for a venue for our band to play.

This is where Ypsi’s been. But where’s Ypsi going? Part of the proposed Water Street development includes condos along the Huron River, which during a recent presentation before the City Council were were revealed to be possible future homes for EB-5 visa holders (read: ‘millionaires’) who invested the development. Along with the development’s “luxury” student housing, it is quite possible that residents of this “international village” could then set their sights on surrounding neighborhoods. (Relatedly, the retort during babogate that Depot Town is “already gentrified” doesn’t quite allay the concerns that new businesses would be drawing in newcomers with disposable income who could subsequently take interest in other, less gentrified neighborhoods.) Gentrification is a domino effect, after all.

While the phases outlined by writers and scholars are more schematic than anything else and do not map perfectly onto Ypsi (or any flesh-and-blood 21st-century city for that matter), considering them is helpful. And in reality, a given city can be experiencing elements of disparate phases simultaneously. As in the case of the Water Street development that’s being pursued as a “solution to the city’s financial woes,” the draw of international capital to a smaller (and only moderately gentrified) city like Ypsilanti gives Ypsi something in common with hypergentrified global cities like New York and San Francisco: we’re already seeing global capital take an interest in Ypsi as a site for multimillion dollar development, though on a much smaller scale here than in these larger cities.

Gentrification, as we see, happens in waves. This is relevant when talking about how differently positioned folks are implicated in gentrification. Low-to-moderate-income people who come to a city or neighborhood in the early stages of gentrification are implicated in the process, but they are also vulnerable to displacement in succeeding phases. Moskowitz talks about not being able to afford to live in the heavily gentrified West Village, where he grew up. But in being displaced, he was also displacer, moving around New York, to Queens and Brooklyn. This domino effect shows that when it comes to gentrification, one can simultaneously occupy both positions of displacer and displaced, complicit but also vulnerable:

I was in some ways a victim of the process, priced out of the neighborhood I grew up in, but I also knew I was relatively privileged, and a walk through Bushwick or Bed-Stuy confirmed that—seeing the old, dilapidated apartment buildings under renovation on block after block, with windows boarded up and signs out front proclaiming the building’s new owners. I knew people were being kicked out. It became clear that for most poor New Yorkers, gentrification wasn’t about some ethereal change in neighborhood character. It was about mass evictions, about violence, about the decimation of decades-old cultures.

But the reporting I’d seen on gentrification focused on the new things happening in these neighborhoods—the high-end pizza joints and coffee shops, the hipsters, the fashion trends. In some ways that made sense: it’s hard to report on a void, on something that’s now missing. It’s much easier to report on the new than on the displaced. But at the end of the day, that’s what gentrification is: a void in a neighborhood, in a city, in a culture. In those ways, gentrification is a trauma, one caused by the influx of massive amounts of capital into a city and the consequent destruction following in its wake.

It’s difficult to report on the lives of people and communities being displaced by gentrification because “it’s hard to report on a void,” but also because displacement from one’s home tends to be regarded as a personal or private matter (and talking about one’s own experience of precarity can be a vulnerable thing to do). Shiny new businesses are alot easier to talk about. They’re more public and visible than the hidden lives of folks whose housing security is precarious. Yet sounding the alarm when a new spot opens is important because it’s not just that these new spots are conspicuous signs of gentrification to come: by changing the landscape, these new places change perceptions of Ypsi, which goes from being seen as run-down and shady to being seen as the cool place to be, thus feeding further gentrification.

Chances are if you are white and college-educated you are complicit, whether or not you have intended to be. This is something to own up to. But wallowing in guilt and defensiveness about it isn’t going to help anyone. Conversation should begin with an acknowledgment that one is implicated in (and even benefits, at least in the short term, from) these processes. A good way to build understanding is to acknowledge that one can be both vulnerable and complicit at the same time. This is because our actions are rooted in a system whose inequitable tendencies end up hurting most (if not all) of us somewhere along the line. Instead of taking up space in conversation seeking to defend oneself or absolve oneself of guilt, it is better to work to understand how the system works and to do so in a way that centers the concerns, desires, politics, and experiences of people who are most vulnerable to displacement.

Notes

[1] http://www.utne.com/arts/hip-hot-spots

[2] http://www.visitypsinow.com/ypsireal/

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DEFEND AFFORDABLE YPSI is a social media project aimed at generating critical discussion around gentrification and affordable housing in Ypsi and beyond.

The task of DAY is to share news, commentary, audio, video, and other media on gentrification, displacement, affordable housing, and racial and economic segregation.

The DEFEND AFFORDABLE YPSI Facebook page is updated regularly and will serve as an ongoing archive, highlighting media from a variety of sources. DAY’s purpose is to inspire and assist the struggle to build a more equitable Ypsi through collective self-education and mutual empowerment.

In the coming months, DAY will be producing original content dedicated to exploring these issues in greater depth. This zine is the first effort toward this end

9 comments

  1. Michael

    I don’t disagree with the observations of the piece, but what was lacking were any concrete alternatives. The argument seemed to be along the lines of, “We shouldn’t have public amenities and business producing high quality goods and services in our city because people with money like these things and will raise the rents of current residents.” Rather than arguing against these things being present, what can we do to try to increase home ownership among current residents to help insulate them from rent inflation? How do we encourage more businesses to operate along the lines of Cultivate, which does all the good things you mentioned, but also serves low-income patrons for free or at a discounted rate? What policies could be proposed to the city to somehow incentivize new businesses to create opportunities for residents that are most likely to be affected by the displacing effects of gentrification as time wears on?

    I hate to say this, but don’t be a Republican about it–by that I mean, full throated criticism of something isn’t enough, you need a viable alternative to go along with it.

    • Robert

      I hate to say this, but don’t be a Democrat about it, Michael: tone-policing grassroots activists who are doing the necessary work of drawing awareness to something that’s most definitely underway in Ypsilanti.

      • Michael

        I’m not tone policing anyone; there’s nothing wrong the observations or the way they are articulated, but they they need to go further. Identifying a problem is certainly the first step toward addressing it, but gentrification is a well documented problem already–what are we going to do about it that isn’t simply keeping the status quo?

  2. GC

    Bravo! All of us white college-educated people are ruining Ypsilanti by maintaining our houses and investing in our neighborhoods. We should sell our houses to Stuart Beal so that he can rent them out to people like you until they fall down. New businesses are bad too–better to keep the empty buildings. Otherwise, people might start seeing Ypsilanti as a cool place to be rather than shady and run down. The horror!

    With such a fantastic vision for our city, it’s a mystery to me why you chose not to put your name on this article.

    • JC

      What don’t you understand about displacement, GC? It’s a process that began several hundred years ago in the US, and in Ypsilanti, specifically, it’s ticking up in recent months. Rents are rising, house prices are rising, and bourgeois lifestyle outlets are beginning to set up shop here. These are facts.

      Regarding lack of bylines in grassroots/radical publishing: there’s a long and rich history for this, too. Surely you’ve read editorials in the New York Times? At RAW, we sometimes run articles without authorial attribution if there’s ever a fear of retaliation/retribution, and we’ll do so, at other times, if an author would rather make an intervention into public life without any sort of ego/social capital ramifications. Sometimes, if the text at hand is more personal, or demands a figure of accountability, we run it with our names.

      As for the DAY crew specifically: their name *is* on this text. They’re a collective, and as such, to not list each author name is a way of foregrounding the potentials of non-individuality and collaboration.

  3. Ashley Fox

    I really appreciate your piece. It is thoughtful, nuanced, and looks at the issues of gentrification honestly. Ypsilanti is a unique place, but it also a exists within the context of an unfair system that we all live in within this society. A system where those with wealth and privilege are given an abundance of opportunity and resources and those without those things are too often denied opportunity and offered fewer resources to help seize them when they may come.
    The important question is, why must people in poverty (too often in our society synonymous with people of color) be condemned to live in places with few resources, low expectations, in areas that are poorly cared for? And, secondly, why do people with resources, higher education, and housing stability work so hard to block and drive poor people away? Thirdly, how do we make a community that is safe, clean, rich in opportunities (for education and employment), and fiscally sound, without excluding or driving away those who are poor?
    Our answer cannot be that to stop gentrification and keep things affordable for the poor we need to keep things bad and not solve our problems. All residents should go to schools that are properly resourced, clean, safe, diverse, integrated, and full of teachers that care for them. [Schools, by the way, is the single greatest source of our segregation and lack of equity in this society and, particularly, this state, which in this expansive article, I wish the author would have mentioned.] All residents should have adequate city services: clean, maintained roads & sidewalks; appropriate, safe, open space for recreation; adequate, professional, respectful police and city staff that are sufficiently paid for their work; clean water; access to affordable healthy food, medical care, transportation and social services as needed. All residents should expect to have a voice in their local government and expect it to be stable and adequately resourced to provide these services.
    All residents should have access to education/training to be qualified to pursue a career path. All residents should have access to job opportunities that pay a sufficient wage for all to have a clean, safe, secure, stable, and sufficient housing that is within their means. In other words, we should not have to be middle class or wealthier to live in a place that is safe, healthy, secure, clean, affordable, and with sufficient opportunity for our children or ourselves to improve and grow. I recognize that what I describe may sound unrealistic and ignorant of the world, but we must acknowledge how unfair (and frankly, un-American) our system is when we believe that the poor deserve to live in a place that is the opposite of any of those characteristics–dirty, unsafe, dangerous, unstable, devoid of opportunity, or not affordable.
    What I think the author does so well is describe how we all are complicit (especially, middle-class whites, like me) are in this system. What I think the author does well is point out both the symptoms and the syndrome. Some of the symptoms are covert, coded and nefarious, like referring to an area as “nice” or “up-and-coming” as opposed to “not very nice,” “sketch,” “ghetto,” “scary,” or “dirty” (All of which have racial and socioeconomic overtones). These should be translated and understood for their implications. Some of the symptoms are taken care of by market forces–you cannot sell enough craft-made juices at $7 a bottle and still pay your people and the rent. (Goodbye, Babo.) We should neither be oblivious or freak out too early with these. Some symptoms we should not wish away, like investment that could solve our city’s decades-old headache, and preserve a physical manifestation that tells people the city is not worthy of resources. I completely agree that the development may produce consequences that will need to be curbed, curtailed, or ameliorated, but there is little commendable in keeping millions in debt and acres of polluted land in the center of town. We must be careful that we are not guilty of believing that the working poor deserve nothing better than a mess.
    The trick is how do we get the improvements that come with greater investment associated with gentrification, but set policy and social attitudes to avoid actual gentrification where those in poverty are driven from their community and the whole community reaps the negative consequences.
    What I appreciate about the article is that starts a difficult conversation on a story in which we all play a role.
    In reading a little about gentrification, it’s become clear that it is not the “revitalized” (read prettier, less affordable, and free of the poor or people of color) that are where the focus should be. They are only part of the picture. The focus should be on how can policy help middle class, established,whiter neighborhoods welcome and integrate the poor and/or minorities within “their” neighborhoods, while making sure neighborhoods receiving investment have policies that can improve living conditions without driving away the poor. Let’s face it, our historical models for minorities or the poor moving into a neighborhood are not good. A black family moves into a predominantly white neighborhood, despite it being uncomfortable, to access better schools, cleaner streets, and greater opportunity. Then, white people in the neighborhood get nervous about their safety and their investment in their home and they either: 1) run away in fear for their safety (based on racist stereotypes) and housing prices plummeting, or, 2) conversely, they treat the new people with such suspicion or disdain that the new people eventually decide it’s not worth it to live in a place you’re not wanted.
    Like so many things with race and poverty in this world, gentrification is a predominantly white people problem where those affected are people of color. We (I say, ‘we’ as a white person, to my fellow libby white people) need to know from our neighbors who are racial minorities or who are in poverty how our communal actions are affecting them, and work alongside them to create policies that recognize our tendencies and actively works against them to create improved conditions, integration, and opportunity for everyone in a way that is more equitable. To the comment-er that blamed the author for not coming up with a solution to a problem that has yet to be solved by anyone fully, I hope you can recognize the complexity of such issues and join in the effort to figure this out together.

    • Michael

      Ashley,

      What a wonderful, nuanced response. I apologize for the flippancy of my earlier comment. It was a reaction at the time to a lot of discussion I’d seen on various Ypsi forums where every time some new investment in the city occurred, it seemed like there were immediate cries that it was just another thing that white people like that was going to displace disadvantaged residents, even when some of those businesses (e.g. Cultivate) are working hard to be a resource for everyone. I felt frustrated with this, because, as you mentioned in your comment, it seemed that it the implication was that the only way to keep housing affordable for poorer citizens is by keeping investment away. Sidewalks, well kept parks, and a vibrant city are not things that only wealthy white people like, but I do acknowledge that because of the market forces, white people with means end up with disproportionate access to these things.

      To clarify, I completely acknowledge that it’s a very difficult problem to solve. My frustration was not that the author having not singlehandedly solved it, but with what read to me as the argument that an affordable and well-resourced city are entirely mutually exclusive.

      I agree with you that education is a key agent of change, and one of the first things that comes to my mind is how the Ypsilanti school district has been negatively impacted by middle class families in Ypsi using the school of choice policy to send their children to other districts. I would be curious to know how many kids of school age live in the Ypsi district but don’t attend Ypsilanti schools. Would the extra resources allow for an improved teacher : student ratio or better teacher pay to help attract better candidates and reduce turnover of good teachers? I don’t actually know the answers to those, but it seems like the effect of economies of scale might indicate there could be a chance it would. If nothing else, it would be nice to re-integrate our schools, which have effectively been again segregated by white families leaving en masse. This would help poorer children make social connections to those with resources, and help those who are more well off to understand those from different backgrounds a individuals and not stereotypes.

      It’s been several years since I’ve been involved with YCS, so I’m not sure how things have changed in the intervening years, but based upon my experience at the time, I was faced with an ethical dilemma, albeit of a hypothetical nature, as I don’t have any children. From what I saw at the time, I would not be comfortable sending my own children to Ypsi High, though I also know that having the entire community invested in the improvement of the school is necessary for it to thrive. It’s a classic collective action problem for the families who have chosen to send their children elsewhere. If everyone were to return their kids to the local schools, the monetary investments and parental involvement would be a benefit to all families with children there. If, however, only a few families take that action, their children would likely receive a poorer education, but not on their own significantly affect the culture (by this, I mean school culture with respect to academic achievement) or have their families’ resources significantly improve the experience of other children at the school. (I want to be very clear that I am not implying that poorer families are not invested in their children’s education, simply that I recognize that their ability to give time and money to the school is limited by circumstance and not desire.) Something that had crossed my mind was something along the lines of asking families with elementary aged children who have not started school or currently attend school outside the district to sign a pledge that if enough other families who are in similar situation also sign, that they will all return their children to our local schools. In that situation, no one has to be the first one to take the first step, hoping others will follow.

      When talking about the gentrification issue, the discussion generally centers on how to maintain affordability for poorer residents, but it also makes me wonder why some of our city’s residents live in or near poverty. There’s certainly no single answer, but some obvious contributing factors seem to be racism, poor quality education, lack of social connections to those with resources, and ghettoization (by that I mean, the clustering of those with few resources into a concentrated geographic space). Improving the quality of our schools and desegregating them seems like it would be a good place to start addressing at least the first three items. As far as the geographic concentration of poverty goes, an important step, though one that might get pushback from wealthier neighborhoods, is the intentional distribution of publicly subsidized housing. Ideally, there should not be a block full of rentals accepting section 8 vouchers, bur rather, they should be scattered throughout the city. Perhaps the city could create some sort of incentive for landlords outside of ward 1 to accept vouchers? I know people shouldn’t need to be incentivized to do the right thing, but unfortunately appealing to peoples’ moral conscience only goes so far in the real world. However, already being cash strapped, I don’t see the city being able to do such a thing without continued investment to grow its tax base.

      Anyway, I hope this counts as walking the walk in terms of putting forth some ideas.

  4. Anonymous

    Responding to the guy above: Cultivate does not offer anything free or discounted to low income people. You cannot choose your own price. The sign that says “all coffee prices are suggested donations” is only to keep their non-profit status. The owner told me that personally via email

  5. alelliott93

    I really appreciate this piece. It’s a very thoughtful, nuanced look at a really serious problem, and I’ve shared it on my social media platforms. I wish I had more to add, but I don’t think I have anything to contribute that isn’t alread ycovered here.

    Where do we go from here? It’s become clear that City Council isn’t listening, and it is an issue that has so many different sides and interconnected elements that it’s hard to know where to start. Do we push for a repeal of Schools of Choice? Do we advocate for more “affordable housing” (and what constitutes affordable, anyway)? Do we try to get Ann Arbor to take on some of the affordable housing burden, knowing that a) they probably won’t and b) the city is unaffordable in many other ways besides housing?

    Thanks again for this article. Looking forward to more great RAW contributions from DAY.

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