In an article I was interviewed for regarding the state of Deep Ellum, the word gentrification was used by the writer to describe my views on what is happening, or needs to happen to revitalize the neighborhood where my gallery is located. Since this article I have noticed this word being used more and more in conversations I have had pertaining to the area. Having minored in cultural anthropology I am very familiar with the word and its meaning, but today I looked it up on Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, so that the official definition can help to illustrate my point. And here is the definition they gave for the word:
gen·tri·fi·ca·tion • jen-trə-fə-ˈkā-shən • noun
the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.
What is happening in Deep Ellum is hardly gentrification. There is no displacing of a lower economic class by affluent people who are capitalizing on low property values for their own financial gain. In fact if you were to shop around the neighborhood you would find that a lot of the property in Deep Ellum is quite expensive. The property owners of Deep Ellum are doing what any good capitalist does, and that is simply getting a return on their investment. There really isn’t a lot that anyone can do to stop someone from selling something that is theirs.
Organizations like the Deep Ellum Association, Deep Ellum Foundation and the Deep Ellum Enrichment Project serve a key purpose of trying to keep the culture of Deep Ellum intact as we move into this new era promising big change. I think the spirit of Deep Ellum is more vital than the physical complexion of the area.
If a few large retailers end up moving into the neighborhood I think that will be really great for the independent businesses that are already here. Large retail, residential communities and restaurants generally come with budgets to advertise. This will ultimately draw new people to the area that might not have come here otherwise. Once they are here they can walk around and discover the O.G. businesses who are foundation of the neighborhood.
This isn’t an after school special where the big developer’s soft spot is touched when he sees the neighborhood kids playing on the playground he is about to tear down for his latest mixed use development, and the climax occurs when he tears up the contract while his investors stand their shaking their heads.
This is commerce not gentrification, and the above scenario will almost certainly never happen. So since this is inevitable at this point, playing ball sounds like a good idea. It is better than the alternative of being confrontational and resistant to change, you’ll get less referrals from your gigantic new neighbors.
If you want to see what gentrification looks like, Oak Cliff is a 10 minute drive from Deep Ellum.