Dear gentrifier… hello, now listen

By CHANELLE PARRIS

When you hear the word “gentrification”, what do you think?

How do you feel?

Based on the responses I’ve gotten over the years, it is a mixed bag. The one thing I have learned is, for a place ranked amongst the most gentrified cities in the nation, Portland understands very little about gentrification.

Depending on the person, the bias, or literature, you will hear it disguised as many things: “neighborhood change”, “urban renewal”, or “revitalization”. I like to call it what it is: “gentrification”. I used to work on a neurology study at Oregon Health and Science University.

The study, Sharing History through Active Reminiscence and Photo-Imagery took a multi-faceted approach. Its goal is to develop programs aimed at slowing the cognitive decline that leads to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in the Black population. This is achieved, in part, by considering the effects of gentrification on the brain health of Black residents of the historically Black neighborhoods of Northeast Portland.

At the time, my area of study was focused on Developmental Neuroscience, but I quickly took an interest in the question of how two seemingly unrelated concepts aging and gentrification— had a very real effect on one another.

Through that work, I quickly developed an interest in the history of Blackness in Portland and how Black community was formed, sustained, and eventually destroyed. I read about the processes of gentrification, the practices of defunding and underfunding, the racist laws and policies, the redlining, pricing out, and the demographic shifts that brought us to where we are today.

Deconstructing gentrification

The information was there if you looked for it— articles detailing the racist history of Oregon and the gentrification of Portland specifically, as well as several research papers online that discuss the rising trend of gentrification and its effect on minority communities across the nation. But when I spoke to the people around me, I realized there was something missing from the conversation about gentrification in Portland— the conversation itself was not happening.

Though I was born and partially raised in Portland, I lived in Texas for the second half of my upbringing before ultimately returning to Portland for college. Though we had lived in areas surrounding Portland metro, most of my extended family was established in the Northeast and we visited often, both while we lived here and after we moved away.

I watched the neighborhood change quickly. I remember feeling confused when we visited because the neighborhood looked drastically different each time we returned. But I was too young to understand what was happening, let alone, have a word to describe it.

***

Visit Rose City Residential‘s new website for the full 1,500 story by Chanelle, and more articles from the media collective founded to “raise awareness about social inequity in the housing market by sharing news and feature stories about individuals and communities in Portland.”

This excerpt is published here as part of a partnership between Rose City Residential and Village Portland; based on our mission to promote independent media and spotlight more voices and opinions.

Learn more about media collective RCR and how it started in their inaugural story published on Village Portland by RCR Editor-in-Chief Julianna Robidoux, “What makes a home?”.

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