Opinion: Out with the old, in with the Starbucks

Tyler Kieslich

Tyler Kieslich

Tyler Kieslich is a sophomore news major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

Gentrification is a word that means “to renew.” It’s a dishonest definition. It’s part of a process, a cycle, that pushes aside the old and the poor to make way for ritzy hotels and Starbucks.

It’s happening in Brooklyn, where Jay-Z helped bring a basketball team and a $1 billion sports complex to town. Residents who happened to live where the new arena and commercial district was to be built were forced to pick up and leave under the banner of eminent domain. There are now chain restaurants and Barbra Streisand concerts where people once lived and worked. Brooklyn, long the blue-collar little brother to Manhattan, now has its own version of the Times Square theme park to commercialism.

It’s happening in Cincinnati, my hometown, where the notorious Over the Rhine neighborhood is being transformed from a poor place where poor people live to a haven for hipsters and young people seeking cheap rent and a comfortable urban aesthetic. Washington Park was revitalized — replete with an underground parking complex and a special corner for dog walking — so that the hordes of richer, whiter residents sure to flock to the area could have their own little Midwestern slice of New York City.

When the park opened, hundreds of yuppies who had ventured down from the surrounding hills sang “This Land is Your Land” while protesters and former residents stood picketing a few hundred feet away.

This is good for people like me, middle-class and privileged and with a suburban affection for all things corporatized and branded. I, and others like me, grew up outside of the city limits we tell people we hail from, drinking Starbucks coffee and eating Panera baguettes, unaware of any irony.

The whole idea of a suburb is based on the desire to live separate from anything, to have open space and no crowd, no bustle. So “development” ends up in the form of strip malls that, for instance, makes the once-barren area surrounding my high school look like a spread-out food court.

This works for the cities themselves, too, which want a family-friendly, clean, inoffensive downtown where tourists and businessmen can go to spend their money. It’s not a bad deal for taxpayers, either. They fund the development, and a few years later the money starts coming around again. Cincinnati hosted the World Choir Games this year, which pumped $73 million into the city’s economy. And Brooklyn will have its first professional sports franchise since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957.

These revitalization projects usually leave room for a residential high-rise or two, but high rent ensures that anyone who used to live there has no chance of staying. There’s a moral question here: Is it better to wipe an area clean and start anew, or to identify and fix the problems that make dilapidated neighborhoods an eyesore to begin with?

Gentrification doesn’t renew anything that used to exist. It creates something entirely new, “modern” and unrelated to anything that came before it. Cities want to make themselves look more like airports because it’s economically beneficial to do so. But as an idealistic, hopeless romantic drunk with white guilt, it’s hard not to feel sad for who and what came before.