creative class

The Quest for a Forever Home in an Era of Mass Gentrification

The Quest for a Forever Home in the Era of Mass Gentrification

I’m on the quest to purchase my dream house, my forever home.

Right now, that house is in Washington, DC and it’s one of the many row houses. It’s on a bus line or a flat street on which I can bike easily. Metro proximity is a bonus, but I’m ok with it taking me 30-45 minutes to get to outer suburbs or closer to the monument core. Uber and Lyft and my own two feet and the bus and my bike will be my friends. Or, it will be one of those far north or eastern or western houses with room for a car.

But for now, we are talking about the house.

There will be three bedrooms and two bathrooms. There will be a bathroom and bedroom on one level, so that my mom can visit and not have to go up or downstairs. There will be a porch or a turret or both. There will be a drugstore or a farmers market or a quirky neighborhood café or all three. I will play soul music mixed with gospel, mixed with the blues, with a shot of go-go out of its windows. There will be parties there, and political strategy and resting and relaxation. It will be a shelter. It will be blue in part or whole. It will be home.

I’m well aware that this kind of home is a dream for a lot of people, especially sadly the people who’ve lived near or even in one of these homes as a child or even an adult. Somebody might not like my music or they might not like the food smells or the political signs out front or even the sound of laughter through the screen door.

But if it’s my home base, then it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be. The recent numbers on the black creative class are a nod to that. And this recent study of redlined homes in DC peel back a layer of vanilla underpinning even the Chocolate City. Well, that is if you weren’t aware of Georgetown’s history.

In short, our place in this country may shift around, but I still believe there’s a place somewhere for me.

And of course, we know homes these days take thousands of dollars to obtain and maintain, thousands that I don’t quite have yet. But however long it takes, I want to get those thousands and stake my claim into a space on the world.

Since birth, I’ve known the benefits of being in a black body and having a solid, maybe detached, maybe attached, but 100% yours, home to come to. I’ve been a renter and I’ve been a dorm mate and I’ve been a child in their bedroom, plotting the revolution or at the very least recovering from hurt feelings and a bruised ego.

I miss my dad’s old house, my first home from 0-9,  but even he was ready to move on from that particular space. And partly because that’s the space in which he left this world in, I’m ok with it, like him, having returned to ashes and dust. I do hope that one day, the land it sits on can be a home for a happy person. Doesn’t have to be a family, but a person, who uses that space to be the human garden the world means for them to be.

And I’m grateful as I’ve said in my book to my mom’s house, the one she saved and worked hard for and purchased at a great rate with equity in 2000. In my early years of this blog, I railed against the concept of that 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house, in a low-density development, that had once been farmland, then un-annexed suburbia, and now a clear part of a growing city, reflecting the diversity of thought and race. It’s all on one level. It has a kitchen window above the sink. It has a fireplace and a garage. And there’s room for her garden, her bed and a couple of others so she can have myself and others home to visit. And when we bought it, so I could have enough room to continue my teenage blossoming.

But, its closest bus stop is a half mile away now, having been taken away from an 1/8 of a mile because of budget cuts. Other houses around us have been foreclosed on and have had hard times being filled with renters. But, there are plenty of others that are fine, family homes.

Most of my other family members, and a handful of friends now that I’m 30, are homeowners. Some are detached. Some are in friendly long-term leases. Some are supplemented. Either way, there’s a place they call home and they’ll call that place home or have called that place home for at least the next year or two.

I’d like to go ahead and grab what the realtors call the “forever home”. I might keep changing my city and address some, but one day, there’s going to be a Victorian, Federal or Wardman row house with my name on it. Or, it may be another home style or address, but it’s going to be my permanent address and it’s going to be my home base.

A postscript: I wrote the bulk of this draft before the news broke on Ta-Nahesi Coates home purchase. I’m going to let him tell us about his house buying decision. A decision that may or may not have a happy ending. It may take me getting super famous before I am able to get my forever home. Please don’t tell anybody exactly where it is before I can!

Periodically, I’m going to share how I’m eliminating debt, saving money, making more money, learning more things and tie that back into how we approach city life and life decisions that have to do with proximity to a city, such as home buying and renting. This is the first of this kind of post.

Let People Lead in Your Cities

Let People Lead in Your Cities

What if the real reason people aren’t staying in your city is that they can’t lead?  Can’t they be themselves?  They can’t make the money that they need or even the money that they want? Won’t you listen to their complaints and make changes? Won’t you treat them like adults? Do you silence them? You doubt them? You act like you don’t care?

I feel like it’s safe enough to blatantly say that I couldn’t stay in Greensboro because I’d never get paid to be my full self. Kansas City has its problems, but allowing me to be 100% my full self isn’t the problem. And that’s saying something for a city that’s very much like the city I left behind.

Read this. If you don’t see Greensboro(or any American city) in parts of this, then I’m not sure what you are seeing. I’m also starting to see a Kansas City that doesn’t want this to be their legacy. Two authors have already written about these failures, one even projecting into a not so distant future what KC could look like if we saw major effects nationwide from climate change. Even the propagator of some of the worst segregation and elitism couldn’t beat cancer. When your time is up, your time is up.

But as recent events have shown, and reminded me, a prophet is not beloved in their homeland. Maybe in the broader nation, but not in a place where one has to pay their bills. Another cliche is that you don’t poop where you eat. Well, that causes dysentery for one and two, being critical about your home can leave you on more of a Thomas Wolfe tip than a James Baldwin tip. Even Baldwin had to get out and get his head straight so he could heal through the art.

And I feel like that’s what I’m doing. I’m working on some literal art. I’m examining my surroundings with an outsider’s eye. Last week, I brought you my fantasy fiefdom. If only you could bet on it like all those fantasy sports teams.

But to reign this back in, leaders of cities and corporate overlords– you will attract employees and entrepreneurs of a certain age and look by letting them be who they are. Especially if they are making it rain for you at the job. As long as they are doing no harm, to themselves and others, what’s it to you. Or are you too busy being harmful to yourself by drowning in greed and hoarding to see that the cities that are growing fast, are letting go of the old guard thinking, the forcing into boxes, the checking off of those boxes?

And when it’s time for you to let your life live its course, you can be proud that your legacy will live on. Because we were allowed to be full humans and we have enough life to keep the planet sustaining.

Placebook: Harvest of Our Future


Via Tumblr, commentary on the reduced federal transit subsidy and increased highway spending.

Happy New Year to all of you! I was looking forward to sharing a bit of news this morning, but it leaked. However, I will take this opportunity to thank my family, my friends and those of you who’ve stuck by this very page from the beginning, back when it was a side piece of my personal twitter and blog accounts, boosted by a class project. All of you who expressed congratulations on Facebook and wished me a Happy New Year and shared tweets and statuses I am deeply grateful. I know this isn’t Thanksgiving, but I was on hiatus on Thanksgiving, so here is my gratitude.

My goal is that 2014 is a better year for me, not just as a placemaker (which apparently is one of many cliché terms now in our sector), but as a writer, an advocate, a seamstress, a daughter, a sister, a niece and a friend.

So that news? I am the first winner of YES! Weekly‘s Essay Contest with my entry, The Harvest of Our Future. YES! Weekly is one of our two local alt weekly newspapers,  and my favorite of the bunch. Jordan, Eric and several others of the staff have long been colleagues and friends in making this a better city, one page at a time and I thank them again for this honor.

Now, before we look at the pretty Rose Parade floats, some other news:

The Creative Class: Off the Record and On the Money

Recently, I was chillin’ with some DC artists who were visiting Elsewhere, one of my favorite creative spaces here in Greensboro. Many of the people, who live in a very culturally rich city, had been waiting years for the opportunity to go down and see this art space that is now getting a lot of  attention and press from mainstream and trade publications, along with other cultural institutions and organization. The executive director of Elsewhere is also very engaged in the sense of place , creative placemaking and his role in how that works.

I was not officially part of their visit, but I valued so much the cultural and regional exchange inherent in being able to chat with the visitors, as well as staff at the museum, many who are becoming good friends and partners. Our conversations went back and forth to history, culture, cost of living, and what it means to create.

That to me is what makes being in a city great. No matter what size, there are cultural connections to be had when there are a good number of cultural institutions, bars and restaurants, and homes in a central location. This exchange happened on a First Friday, the gallery walk/festival which has reignited many a downtown, small town or neighborhood.

Sadly, we still have the development community who still just doesn’t get it. I’m praying, crossing my fingers and knocking on wood that when two new buildings are built in my apartment complex, the rent doesn’t go up. While the DCers were happy to hear what I pay a month in rent, I explained that it was our equivalent of the condos-at-any-cost strategy. (However, the beer is really that cheap guys and so are the southern-style hot dogs I didn’t get to feed you because the joint shuts down early even on Fridays). Anyway, this particular evening was a nice grass-is-greener type exchange.

It also highlights what I think is the worst problem with the name “Creative Class.” These people were creative, but not necessarily rich. Most were White Americans, who appeared to have some middle-class upbringing. Yet, I too consider myself an artist. I’m middle-class and so are my parents. But I’m still black. The original theory failed to take into account cultural and even gender diversity. Jamal Green does a great job laying out those shortcomings of the theory. The orginial theory seems to only reward development, increase of salaries,increase of property values, and gay diversity, things that are heavily evident among educated or high-income people.

The development and salary piece is why I think Florida should have named his people and his theory, the Knowledge-Class. While there are artists and creative types in that class, attorneys, doctors and others that have a lot of knowledge and command high salaries aren’t necessarily creative. More information has come out on how  the artist is not the real gentrifier. Also, the arts community is openly and enthusiastically embracing its women and non-white members. These folks are driving traffic and dollars to arts institutions, along with allowing people of all income levels to engage in their creations.

I’ll end with the next logical question. How can we reconcile artists, hard laborers, cubicle dwellers and people who lucked out on millions, retirees, disabled and even children without demonization over who causes ills such as homelessness, gentrification or globalization? Can we talk about knowledge workers and creative workers separately, so that we get a better view of where our economy truly stands?

Image: Young man and woman taking pictures of each other, by Flickr user ralphbijker, under a Creative Commons license.